East Carolina football coach Mike Houston has studied the video of the 27-17 home loss to Temple on Oct. 3 and his evaluation includes positive reaction as well as some elements the Pirates will continue to work on.
“I think it is a game that is in some respects, encouraging,” Houston said. “In some respects, frustrating. Certainly, having the national stage, having prime time, Thursday night, ESPN game, is something that I’m excited about for the program. I think that our players were excited to play in that setting. We’re playing a very talented, top-end AAC team. The way our players came out and competed and the way that we performed at times is encouraging to everyone, not just the fans, but the players and the staff as well.
“The frustrating things are that, I felt like against a good football team, you’ve got to play at a high level and I thought that we played hard but there are many instances throughout that game where I did not think that we played well. That’s the real challenge for this week. … You work your key drills and you go and you work your looks in practice. We’re not translating that to the game. I don’t understand when you see certain things on film that are completely the opposite of what you’re teaching. And so it falls on us.
“Our first name is ‘Coach.’ We get paid to develop these young men. The product we put on the field should be a reflection of our work. If it’s not what we’re teaching, we’ve got to get that corrected.
“A great example is the punt. I think it was there in the third quarter. We had an opportunity to down the ball inside the 5. We got a very good kick and we had two guys watch the ball squirt between them into the end zone for a touchback. We do a drill every Sunday and every Tuesday where we teach the fundamentals of sprinting to the goal line, put your heels on the goal line, flip around and get in front of the ball, much like a shortstop would. It’s a drill we’ve done a hundred times since I’ve gotten here. Then you look and see it in the game, players not doing what they do every week, twice a week, in a drill. I don’t understand it, but it’s our job to get that corrected.
“It’s not that the kids are not giving effort, but they did not do what they were coached to do. It cost our team.
“It’s no different than some of the problems we had versus Temple’s run game. I just don’t understand, not that we weren’t playing hard, but when you don’t play things according to your keys, where you have all week — that is very, very frustrating. That is a big point of emphasis this week.
“Playing hard, OK, we’re doing that now. OK, we’ve got to play well. We’ve got to continue to bring drill work and team work during the week. And we’ve got to bring team work to game day. That’s all three phases.”
Time for recruiting
The bye week before East Carolina resumes play with a league game at Central Florida on Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. has allowed some additional time for recruiting.
“Our coaching staff took off, some of them after the game Thursday night,” Houston said. “We were all on the road on Friday. I took in a local game here in the area. Our coaching staff was up and down the East Coast from New Jersey all the way to Florida. We will do the same starting on Thursday of this week. Some of our coaches will be on the road all day Thursday. The rest of the staff will be at practice. Then everyone will be out on Friday (today).
“We’re spending a good bit of time with that, seeing all of our committed kids, seeing our next top players and then we are starting on the 2021 class with us so far along with the 2020 class.
“In addition to that, spending a lot of time on the phone with recruits this week, spending a lot of time looking at senior film on our 2020 commits, just confirming everything that we saw from back in the summer, just making sure we’re doing what’s best for East Carolina University.”
Houston said he was planning to see another high school game in Pitt County tonight.
ECU had fall break earlier this week and that allowed the Pirates to practice Tuesday morning after a weight-lifting session on Monday.
Tuesday and Wednesday were heavy for travel team players. The Pirates are working on developing younger players for depth, trying to bring them along for the second half of the season.
Thursday was a combination of special team work and first units matching up. A good portion at the end of practice Thursday was devoted to a scrimmage involving younger players.
A weight-lifting session is scheduled for today. The players have Saturday off and will return for a normal game week session on Sunday.
Because East Carolina has beaten two Football Championship Subdivision teams, the Pirates (3-3, 0-2 AAC) will need seven wins to automatically qualify for bowl eligibility in 2019.
“There is a process to be bowl eligible without seven,” Houston said. ” … By the rule, (seven wins) is accurate because we’ve played two FCS teams. But if there are not enough bowl-eligible teams with seven wins or six FBS wins, they would look to the next best available. I do think if we can put ourselves in position to be anywhere close, I do think we’re an attractive draw because of our passionate fan base.”
The Pirates netted 98 yards on 34 rushing attempts against the Owls. The run game could have been more productive.
“There’s a couple of things,” Houston said. “I think everybody in the stands is going to say the offensive line is not blocking well enough. That sometimes may be the case, but that is not the case some of the times also. I thought we had some opportunities on Thursday night where we had things blocked up well. I thought that we had some big plays there in the run game. We’ve got to convert those opportunities. That falls on our young running backs. There are two specific examples where there were easily large chunks of yardage there — if not a score — and we failed to convert that. There’s a big difference between a 6-yard run and a 50-yard run. It falls on everyone.
“It falls on our offensive line. It falls on our running backs to get the job done. It falls on our coaching staff to continue to bring those players along. It’s something that I think we’ve had some bright spots this year. I thought we had some bright spots the other night, but certainly I saw some plays that we left on the field. It kind of goes back to the adage … of playing hard but not playing well.”
Darius Pinnix Jr., who started the season at running back, has missed four straight games.
“He has not returned to practice yet,” Houston said. “He is working out, but he’s not practicing.”
UCF quarterback situation
ECU’s upcoming opponent, UCF (4-2, 1-1), has been without quarterback McKenzie Milton, who was instrumental in a winning streak that spanned 25 games in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.,
“I watched the game last Friday night against Cincinnati (27-24 Bearcats win),” Houston said. “Obviously, they had the young kid in there and he’s very, very talented. Dillon Gabriel. You can see why they’ve chosen to go with him. He has a lot of ability. At the same time, he’s a freshman. So you’re battling some stuff there. So they go and make a complete change? We’ll see. Obviously, (Daniel) Mack played at the end of the year last year and played well. You don’t know which way they’re going to go with having a bye week.”