East Carolina’s first football win in the Mike Houston coaching era, a 48-9 victory over Gardner-Webb on Saturday night, was followed by a winners dinner on Sunday night. The players enjoyed a banquet and the coaching staff got to spend some weekend time with their families.
“It was fantastic,” Houston said. “The kids appreciated the meal. It was very, very festive. … I invite the coaches’ families. The thing that people don’t realize is when I leave the house on Friday morning, especially with a night game, we really won’t see our families again until Tuesday night.
“You’re with the team all day Friday, all Friday night, all day Saturday. I didn’t leave here until after 11 Saturday night. I had a recruiting breakfast at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. Then you’re here until 10:30 Sunday night.
“I leave the house at 5 a.m. each morning. Nobody’s up. You get home at 10:30 or so on Monday night and then you’re back up 5 a.m. Tuesday in here. Really, it’s after practice Tuesday the first time you see your family a lot of times.”
Wins help the ECU coaches get some time with their home folks. Houston has had a family-oriented tradition after triumphs at previous coaching stops.
“So years ago, we decided Sunday night, if we win, we’re going to involve the families in our winners dinner,” Houston said. “It becomes what we call family night. So, you’ve got my 7-year old sitting there talking to C.J. (Johnson) and J.J. (Jordan Johnson). The 10-year old over there talking to Holton (Ahlers). You’ve got the wives and it’s really a great, great atmosphere. Very festive. Very together. It was a really great night.”
The banquet was held in Harvey Hall of the Murphy Center.
“We had steak and shrimp,” Houston said. “We had salad, baked potatoes. You always have an ice cream sundae bar and peanut butter pie.”
Navy has had time to prepare
The Pirates will go for another winners dinner as they visit Navy on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in the American Athletic Conference opener for both programs.
The Midshipmen have had an open date since overwhelming Holy Cross at home, 45-7, on Aug. 31.
“Ken (Niumatalolo, Navy coach) has been there a long time and had a tremendous amount of success,” Houston said. “He’s coming off one of the few down years (3-10, 2-6 AAC) that they’ve had and so that translates into, I’m sure, a very demanding and kind of a ‘we’re going to get this thing turned’ around offseason. They return a ton of experience on both sides of the football. I’m sure we’re going to see a vastly-improved version of what Navy was last year and probably very similar to what people have seen for many, many years at Navy.”
True freshman Demetrius Mauney ran for 107 yards on 13 carries as ECU improved to 1-1. His presence with the Pirates is a testimony to some tenacious recruiting by the new staff.
“Demetrius got here mid-June,” Houston said. “However many months that is, not very long. When I first got hired, he was one that Coach (De’Rail) Sims (running backs coach) and I really targeted. We had been recruiting him at JMU. He was committed to Purdue. We had stayed in constant contact with him. We immediately went all-in on him. We were able to spend some time with him before he went down to the Shrine Bowl for practice. We had to really hustle to get there to see him before he left for practice. We were able to get him and his family here for an official visit after the Shrine Bowl was done. Fortunate enough to be able to get him signed.
“I think everybody saw Saturday night what we saw in him as a high school player and what we saw in him in preseason camp. He has great feet. He obviously has very, very good speed. He has good vision, loose hips and can run with power. I thought he showed that, that he’s not a finesse back. He’s still learning the system. That’s about the only thing that’s slowed him down. He’s a very mature young man, a really, really good kid. We’re excited to have him in the program.”
Navy has averaged 55.6 points in its last five games with the Pirates between 2010 and 2016, winning four of those. The Midshipmen feature an option offense.
“The tough thing is it’s a completely different blocking scheme than anything else you’re going to see,” Houston said. “It’s so fast and so well-executed and so precise and so physical and so in-your-face, you have to play with tremendous discipline. You have to play assignment-sound defense. You have got to be relentless in the way you try to defend it. You can not be a finesse defense at all and hope to slow them down.
“We’ve been able to defend that offense really well over the years at other places I’ve been but at the same time, two of those places (Lenoir-Rhyne and The Citadel), we were running that offense. When you run it, you obviously see it in spring practice. You see it during fall camp. Your players know how to play the techniques needed very well and that offense makes your whole program a very hard-nosed, tough, physical unit.
“Your defenses have that ability to play those guys very much the same way that they play. The challenge is teaching the scheme in a short week. We took time in preseason camp. The first three weeks we worked Navy at the end of practice every single day. The players, they fairly well understand the scheme today. The problem is trying to replicate the speed and the physicality and just what it’s going to look like on game day because I have nobody here who can replicate what they do. So that’s the real challenge.”
Navy’s offense has led to practice adjustments for the Pirates.
“We’ll be a little bit less offense vs. defense against each other,” Houston said on Tuesday. “We do a lot of good on good each week. We’ll do a little bit less this week because the fits are so much drastically different than they are against the zone-spread run game. It really blows the players’ minds when you try to mix the two in a week of preparation so we’ll have to rely on scout teams.
“We are going to mix in some of the better players from each side of the ball onto the scout teams to try to give our scout teams a little bit better ability to give a little bit faster look. I mean you’re going to see us in the parking lot still going through stuff because you’re in a race against time right now trying to get ready.”
ECU offense vs. Navy defense
ECU’s offense will face a new scheme.
“The tough thing is they have a new defensive coordinator, a new scheme,” Houston said. “With a week off, that means we’ve only got one game of film on the new scheme and it was such a mismatch that they didn’t have to show a whole lot in that first game.
“You have a very small sampling so you’re really going in a little bit blind. Brian Newbery (Navy defensive coordinator) was at Kennesaw State last year. We’ve looked at all the film from Kennesaw. Obviously, it’s different players and really, other than the South Dakota (State) game, there was really a huge mismatch all throughout the season there. They really dominated the competition there in the Big South. So it’s difficult to say exactly what they’re going to look like. It’s a 3-down front. It’s a very multiple 3-4 attack. They were very, very aggressive against Holy Cross, which you would expect that from a Navy football team.”
ECU ran for 365 yards last week.
“I’m sure they’re going to try and take away the run against us,” Houston said. “They’re going to try to make us drive the football. They’re going to play very disciplined, play very hard. They really attack the football, do a great job trying to strip the football. It’s really going to be a great challenge. We’re going to have to execute at a very high level on offense. We’re going to have to be great with the football with our fundamentals and our ball handling. We’re going to have to play very, very physical up front on the line of scrimmage.
“We’re going to have to be able to run the football. We’re going to have to be able to do both. We’re going to have to throw the football very effectively on Saturday and we’re going to have to be able to run the football effectively. It is going to be a challenge.”