ECU head football coach Mike Houston discusses NC State

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (ECU) – First-year East Carolina head football coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday prior to Saturday’s road game at NC State.

The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement
“Thanks to everybody for being here. It’s an exciting week, the first game week of 2019 is here. Certainly, there’s been, not only for us but for every college program all over the country, you point to this week for so long. Dating back to last winter, all spring and summer, everything revolves around the beginning of the season. It’s an exciting time. It’s a very exciting time here in Greenville. The buzz around our program here locally in the city of Greenville and regionally with Eastern North Carolina is something that is very motivating. It’s encouraging to our players and certainly there’s a buzz around our football program and the football offices this week.”

On NC State
“Got off to a good start with a very enthusiastic Sunday practice in our very first game prep for NC State. The guys had yesterday off, their NCAA day off. Then we’ll pick back up this afternoon with meetings and practice. It’s a big week for us with a big challenge this Saturday as we travel over to Raleigh to face a very good Wolfpack program.

“We were able to face Coach (Dave) Doeren and his team last year in the opener at James Madison. I told him before that game, just watching him and being familiar with that program and with recruiting in the state of North Carolina as we’ve recruited it everywhere we’ve been, I respect the job he’s done building a very solid program.

“The job he’s done recruiting in state and the consistency which they’ve played. I know they had a great year last year, going to a bowl game and winning nine games in the ACC. They did have some graduation on offense. They return the bulk of their defense back. They did have some changes on their coaching staff, but as always, I expect to see a very solid roster and we expect to face one of the better teams in the ACC this Saturday at 12 for the noon kickoff. This is a great opportunity for us. Certainly, it will be the first test we have and the first opportunity to find out where our program is as we start a new era of Pirate football.”

On Noah Henderson And Ja’Quan McMillian Earning Starting Spots
“Noah is someone that has the stature. He is a big human being that is very athletic. He is someone that has improved greatly since we got here and he has had a very solid fall camp. There has been a lot of competition there at that right tackle position, but we’re confident that Noah has the ability to get the job done.

“Ja’Quan, really, he has been a big positive since we’ve gotten here. He was someone that had a lot of other opportunities in the recruiting process but was very solid with East Carolina. When I got the job, we worked very hard to solidify that. His high school coach and I go all the way back to my days of coaching at T.C. Roberson. So certainly, I think that relationship helped because Adrian (Snow) knows me personally, knows how I’m going to treat the players, knew what kind of environment Ja’Quan would be in. But he has been everything we could have asked for. He is a great competitor; a very talented player and I think he plays with a lot more composure than the typical freshman you will see.”

On Matt McKay Starting At Quarterback For NC State
“We did kind of anticipate that he was going to be the one. We’ve watched film of him from last year. I know that he didn’t play a ton last year, but still, he was impressive in the opportunities he had to get in different games along the way. We’ve watched the spring game pretty closely. The things that stand out to me are he is a legitimate dual-threat guy. He runs well and as far as him as a passer, you can see why they like him. He has a very quick release, a compact throwing motion and throws with good accuracy. So, you put him in an offense like that, he has the ability to run it and has the ability to throw in the RPO game. I’m sure they feel like he gives them the best opportunity to win with all the other weapons that they have around him on the offensive side.”

On Whether There Is A Better Way To Start The Era With A Sold Out Game At NC State
“In Dowdy-Ficklen with a sellout, that would be the perfect way to start it. Outside of that, to be against an opponent that both fan bases consider a rivalry and a sellout crowd in the opener, it’s going to be a hostile crowd. I like that. Our teams in past years have played well in those types of environments. Hopefully we will have this team prepared to play well this Saturday, but it will be an exciting venue. That’s what you prepare for. That’s why you coach and that’s why you play. You get excited for games like this. So, we’re looking forward to it.”

On Whether He’s Nervous About Saturday
“I will be. You’re always nervous to a degree, but at the same time those jitters are the anticipation. We’ve put a lot of work in and we’ve got a lot invested so far. We want to really get an opportunity to see exactly where we are. We think we have certain things we’re going to do well, but until you face an opponent and especially one that’s as talented as NC State, there’s a little bit of unknown. But we’re excited to get out there and play. I’m sure as we stand in the tunnel right at the end of the end zone and getting ready to take the field on Saturday, there will be a lot of nerves. But most of those nerves are going to be excitement, anticipation and just getting ready to go out there and play.”

On The Progress Of The Secondary
“I think anytime you’re installing a new system, it takes some time to learn to gel together especially on the backend. Obviously, we have about as much experience as you’re going to find anywhere with Coach (Bob) Trott and his background coaching secondaries and putting together defenses. His knowledge has been a benefit to not only those players back there but to Coach (Brandon) Lynch. Coach Lynch and I date back to the beginning of his coaching career and the first thing I told him after I took over the program is this is someone you can learn a lot from while continuing to develop and grow as a position coach. So, I think them working together along with the combination of young and older players that we have there in the secondary, they’ve come a long way since the beginning.”

On Preparing His Pregame Speech
“Those things are really a culmination of what the team and I talk about through the week. They’re not really scripted. I was talking to somebody the other day and they were asking about it. There’s been one time in my past that was kind of choreographed and it was a special situation and a special set of circumstances. They’re all built on some themes from the week. Most of them revolve around how we want to play a certain ballgame. If there’s a certain game plan, if there’s a certain identity we want to establish in that game, whatever it is, those very much come from the heart. It will be an exciting time, the first time in the locker room with our team. We’re going to have a lot of firsts. Hopefully we have some really positive things to pull from coming out of this game.”

On The Schedule For Friday And Saturday
“We will get together about midday on Friday and we’ll do our walk-throughs here before we head over to Raleigh. We’ll get there about an hour before dinner and then we have some meetings post-dinner. I do want to get the kids in bed pretty early on Friday night with a 12 noon kickoff. Because Saturday morning when they wake up, it’s going to come pretty fast. You have pregame meal at 8 a.m. That kind of tells you how quickly you need to wake up and be ready to go. They have to be fairly prepared to play on Friday night. We’ll work on that throughout the week. I’ve been over with the players how we want them to prepare both mentally and physically throughout the week. It’s not something you just flip a switch on Friday. It’s a preparation that starts on Sunday but really kicks into gear today. It will be a fast morning on Saturday, but it will be an exciting one.”

On Preparing For The Heat
“You better prepare for it. It’s something we do have a lot of experience with. Coaching in Charleston, S.C., we had to deal with it just about year-round. I thought we were very well prepared last year at James Madison going into that game. Thinking back, we had two players that had minor cramping issues in the second half, but really our roster handled it pretty well. We’ve tried to do a good job of preparing throughout preseason camp. I think the afternoon practices last week and this week will help prepare the players for the heat. We do have a little bit of a calmer climate right now. This week is not looking quite as hot on Saturday as we had last year for the kickoff. But even that being said, first-game jitters and guys getting amped up for the first game, that sometimes complicates some of the dehydration stuff. We have a system for our guys on how they hydrate on Thursday and Friday going into the game. We have a hydration test on Friday before our team meetings and anybody that’s underhydrated has a specific prescription for the next 24 hours, so they’re well-hydrated prior to kickoff.”

On What Will Make ECU Successful On Saturday
“In a one statement kind of deal, if we do the things that good football teams do. What that means is and I defined it for the players on Sunday, is that in opening games, turnovers, penalties, special teams and big mistakes. Those are the things that you will see sometimes in a sloppy performance in an opener. It’s really got to be the point of emphasis this week in practice and it’s what we talked about as a staff this morning. We have to do a great job of ball security this week. We really need to be on it execution-wise, both sides. We need to have great communication on the offensive front, quarterbacks, receivers, running backs, and backend on the defense. We really have to be sound with our run fits. We’ve got to really go and have a great job this week with the special teams phase. Their punt returner, Thayer Thomas, he had a really solid game against us last year. I think he is a very dynamic returner and averaged almost 10 yards a return last year. We’ve got to do a good job of keeping him bottled up. So, it’s just doing the things that good football teams do, but there’s a lot that goes into that.”

On Whether He Wants Players To Remember Or Forget Last Year’s Game
“I think a little of both. I mean how can you not be motivated by that? Every year is a new year and every team is a new team. Certainly, this team and this program is at a different point than it was last December. Their program is too. Because each year, what you did in the past is kind of out the window. I hope that they never forget what that feels like because that could be a motivating factor as well. I think they have an opportunity to go out and show what they truly are. I think we have an opportunity to go out and show that’s not how our program is going to be identified or remembered. There’s a big challenge in front of us on Saturday. They’ve got to forget how they played, they’ve got to forget the identity of that team in the past and embrace who we are and what we’re trying to become.”

On Whether He Will Script Offensive Plays
“We’ve done it both ways in the past. (Offensive Coordinator) Donnie (Kirkpatrick) will have the first couple of plays where he wants to go direction wise. After that, the situation and the style of game it turns out to be is really going to dictate a lot of that stuff. As I’ve said many times, right now we’re not sure how they’re going to try to defend us. We think we know based on our research and what we’ve seen from them in the past. But it’s been eight, almost nine months since we’ve seen anything from that program on film against another opponent. So, we’ve got to see how they’re going to defend us to decide on the play calling.”

On How Important It Is To Run The Football
“I think both of us, as far as coaches go, have a kind of mindset that we want to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. Coach Doeren has had a lot of success and his teams have always been able to run the football effectively. They’ve had three-straight years of 1,000-yard rushers and they’ve always been solid against the run defensively. So that’s something we want to do, it’s something they want to do, so your kind of going to have a clash of titans to a degree from that standpoint. I do think it’s very important for us to be balanced. In order for us to throw the ball effectively, we’re going to need to be able to run the ball effectively and vice versa on defense. I think we’re going to need to do a great job of slowing them down in order to have an effective day on that side of the ball.”

On Where And How Far He Trusts Jake Verity
“I think that Jake is very, very talented and I think a lot of that depends on a lot of different factors. What part of the ballgame is it, what’s the situation, weather conditions, things like that. But Jake does have really good range and very good accuracy, so he does give us a legitimate weapon.”

On What Helped Starting Wide Receivers Earn Their Spot
“Well I think it’s a combination. If you look at them, it’s all guys that are a little bit older. Blake (Proehl) is a redshirt sophomore, but he’s been in the program for a couple of years now. But I think those guys that are slated as the starters, were the ones that were the most consistent throughout preseason camp. When we got here in the spring, there was some inconsistency with a couple of them. But I think you look at them as a whole, they were the guys that were there every day, practiced every day, caught the ball consistently, blocked consistently, worked consistently and so I think it’s just a culmination of what they put together through preseason camp.”