East Carolina football coach Mike Houston says Tulane’s 1-3 record is deceptive as the Pirates (2-2) get ready to play the Green Wave in the American Athletic Conference opener for both teams on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
“They’re a good football team,” Houston said. “They had what was then … number two-ranked in the country, Oklahoma — had them on the ropes in Norman. Had the ball with a couple of minutes on the clock, down five, driving deep into Oklahoma territory. (Michael) Pratt (quarterback) played very, very well in that game. I think just everybody from the Oklahoma side came away just thoroughly impressed with him and the Tulane football team.”
The Wave blasted Morgan State, 69-20, before falling 61-21 at No. 12 Ole Miss.
Tulane lost 28-21 at home to Alabama-Birmingham last week despite three scoring passes from Pratt.
“Certainly had a tough game, just a very good, undefeated Ole Miss team who is playing as good as anybody in the country right now, but had a big win over Morgan State,” Houston said. “Had a tough loss the other night. … UAB is good now, they weren’t playing just nobody, they were playing a very good football team and should have won it.
“They had three drives in the fourth quarter, deep in UAB territory that they came away with no points. … It’s a 1-3 team that could easily be 3-1 with a win over the No. 2 team in the country. Good football team, well-coached football team, talented football team. We’ve got our hands full, facing a very good quarterback.”
Last week’s struggle
ECU had some lulls last Saturday in a 31-28 win over Charleston Southern, a Football Championship Subdivision program with fewer scholarships than the Pirates.
“Didn’t play very well,” Houston said. “Kids mentally weren’t ready to go out and play at the level they needed to play at to execute the way we want to execute. Obviously that falls on me, but it was one of those things where (we) cautioned them and talked to them all week.
“You’ve got to learn some painful lessons sometimes. Thankful that we got a win, but I think that our roster learned a valuable lesson and I think I’ve got their attention. Glad to get a win, they’re hard to come by. We are 2-2 going into conference play, so excited about that. Obviously don’t want to ever play like that again. I think it’s the only … I don’t remember another win that I’ve had in my head coaching career, 11 years as a college head coach, that I didn’t sleep after the win. Sunday was probably not a whole lot of fun for some people, but as we left the building on Sunday everybody’s on the same page.”
Houston said the team didn’t have the proper focus last week after a 42-38 win at Marshall. The Pirates were outscored 28-0 in the first and fourth quarters combined by CSU.
“At the end of the day, I’m preaching one thing all week and then our kids are hearing something else all week from everybody around them,” Houston said. “They’re hearing from the social media world and their friends and their family and the experts. So they weren’t ready to play a gutted out, focused, physical, just the way we want to play.
“And if you’re not ready to play that way at the beginning of the game, it ain’t going to fix itself anywhere throughout the game. The process of preparing to play a game the way we want to play is a week-long process building up to Saturday kickoff. We came back. We got down to 14-0. We came back and we played really well in the second quarter offensively and defensively, which resulted in a 24-point swing, and then in the third quarter we were able to score defensively and get some stops there. But we never did hit offensively the way I expect us to for most of the night.”
This will be the fourth different kickoff times for the Pirates this season. The Pirates have gotten underway at 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday night as well as noon and a pair of 6 p.m. starts.
“Well they don’t ask me what time I want to kick off so I don’t get a say in it,” Houston said. “12 is quick, you’re eating pre-game meal at 8 a.m. The kids are getting up at six, so you better get to bed early that night and you better be ready to go when you wake up, so 12 o’clock is tough.
“The bad thing with six or seven o’clock is you sit around all day. It is what it is, you play when you’ve got to play. Ideally I like the mid-afternoon kickoffs. You have a little bit of time to get ready in the morning, the kids aren’t quite as rushed. You have some time to do a good walk-through and get organized there. At the same time, you have time post-game, you have more time for recruits.
“I actually get to see my kids. That’s the tough thing with a weekend like last weekend is, I get up and go to work on Friday morning, I don’t see my two boys until … I see them at winner’s dinner on Sunday night and other than that I don’t see them until Tuesday night after we finish up everything. That’s selfish, but I think the players like the mid-afternoon kickoffs too. I don’t know what the fan base likes, I think they probably like the night kickoffs, I don’t know.”
It appeared that expanding the playoffs in college football had some traction earlier this year. Now, the prospect of more teams receiving bids is looking less likely.
“I said throughout the whole thing when all this stuff first started. I just think if you’re going to expand it you need to be careful because you’re talking about adding more games which means you’re adding a longer season to the bodies of the guys out on the field playing,” Houston said. “You just better be careful. When we were at JMU (James Madison), when we were on our run we played 15 games back-to-back seasons and then played 13 the next year and it took a toll on our kids’ bodies. It’s something I saw first-hand. The more games you play, and the NFL is dealing with it year-in and year-out and that’s a big arguing piece with the collective bargaining agreement, it is just the wear and tear on the players’ bodies.
Wave is back
Visiting Tulane downed ECU, 38-21, on Nov. 7 of the 2020 season, so the Green Wave is playing in Greenville for the second straight year.
“It’s just one of those deals with the scheduling anomaly,” Houston said. “When (Connecticut) left (the AAC) and we went to an odd number of teams, just the way the schedules worked out Tulane ended up coming here two years in a row. It wasn’t anything that us or Tulane did. It was dictated by the conference office.”
Pratt passed for 216 yards and three touchdowns last year at ECU and the Wave had 300 yards rushing.
“(Pratt) had a great season last year,” Houston said. “I remember we were coming off a tough Navy game. We were dealing with the COVID stuff with Holton (Ahlers) and the next week going to Tulsa and playing so well and winning the game three times in the last minute and coming away being told we lost it.
“Just a challenging week recovering from that and I think it impacted how we played. We did not play very well against Tulane last year. They played extremely well. We did not handle those two defensive ends very well in pass protection last year and I thought Pratt did a great job. I also thought the offensive coordinator did a great job against us last year. A lot of lessons that we can take from that game, but at the same time it’s last year. This year is this year.”
Houston talked about the factors that have been and will be stressed in workouts this week.
“I said it Saturday night and I said it to the players late in the week last week that you’re going to play exactly how you practiced,” Houston said. “It showed up Saturday night. … Sunday I spent a lot of time making sure that everybody understood how we wanted to play, which I’ve never wavered from. But we’ve got to practice that way. I’ve stressed it to the coaches.
“I expect us to play a very physical football game. I expect us to play with a lot of intensity, I expect us to play with a lot of energy. It’s the same things that we saw us play with against South Carolina, you saw us play with against Marshall. We’ve got to continue to impress upon them how we practice during the week is how we’re going to play on game day.
Houston said the keys to a winners’ dinner on Sunday night are internal.
“The keys for us completely revolve around us,” he said. “We’ve got to play our style of ball. We’ve got to play with, as I said …, a ton of physicality, a ton of intensity, a ton of energy. We’ve got to do a great job of driving the football on offense, putting together drives where we can control the field position and get in the end zone. That’s what we did not do the other night, we did not possess the football and drive the football and left our defense on the field a lot the other night.
“Defensively we only forced one turnover the other night. We’ve got to make sure that we do a better job forcing takeaways, getting the ball back to our offense. We’ve just got to play closer to our brand of football.”