The demands of East Carolina’s shortest week of the season were compounded by a five-hour, 20-minute weather delay prior to a 31-24 overtime loss at Houston on Saturday. The Pirates got back to Greenville around 6:15 on Sunday morning and soon began focusing forward to hosting South Florida on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN).
“Quick turnaround,” said ECU coach Mike Houston at his Monday news conference. “Obviously, a tough loss the other night. The kids played very well. Competed very well. Certainly, had our chances to win the ballgame late. Lot of good and obviously have some things we need to get fixed.
“They’re pretty obvious, but the one thing that is good to see is continued great effort, continued physicality and I thought the guys continued to play well together. Tough loss to a very, very good team on the road. Those games are hard to come by in this league and so to have two tough ones in a row right now that you feel like you should have gotten.”
The Pirates (3-4, 1-2 AAC) visited the Cougars (6-1, 4-0) following a bye week after a 20-16 loss at Central Florida on Oct. 9.
“We have a quick turnaround on Thursday night and it’s a big home game for us,” Houston said. “Very, very good South Florida team coming in here. They really pounded Temple (34-14) Saturday evening down in Tampa. Anytime you have a 45-minute time of possession and run for, I think their yardage gained rushing was 454 yards. Obviously, a dominant performance this past Saturday night by them. They’ve been playing better and better every week so it’s going to be a dogfight. Good football team coming in here. The kids will be ready to go.”
South Florida (2-5, 1-2) has shown improvement since a 45-0 season-opening loss at N.C. State.
“Well, I think their offensive line is drastically improved,” Houston said. “Big, physical group that moves very well, very well coached. I’ve known Allen Mogridge (USF offensive line coach) for two decades. He does a great job, always has. It’s what you would expect in the second year, to see that kind of improvement on the offensive front.
“They have a big, powerful back (Jaren Mangham). They have a couple of smaller, more fast backs. The young quarterback (Timmy McClain) is dynamic. He’s a multiple threat guy. He can throw it and he can run it. Does a good job in the quarterback run game and does a good job scrambling when the play breaks down and extending plays. He extends plays and throws it well on the run. He extends plays with his legs on the ground. They have some talented receivers. They’re going to be a tremendous challenge for us on Thursday night.”
Getting rest vs. getting ready
Houston must find the happy medium between practice preparation and rest for the players in the short week.
“(Sunday) we looked at the film with the kids,” Houston said. “Did a walk-through. My biggest concern (Sunday) was trying to get a little bit, but not getting anything on their bodies and try to get them some sleep (Sunday) night. We got here very, very early, had dinner, and let them go and get some sleep.
“Hopefully the weather cooperates. You’ve got to do the best you can. It’s a challenge. Doesn’t matter how much the staff is prepared for the game, the kids have to be prepared for the game.”
Defense steps up
ECI held Houston scoreless in the second half. That side of the ball is showing improvement.
“I think you’ve seen it,” Houston said. “I think you saw it last year throughout the year and you continue to see it this year throughout the year. The kids are playing very hard. They’re playing together. They’ve embraced how we want to play. But they are going to be challenged on Thursday night. They’re really going to be challenged on Thursday night. We’ll need to improve again.”
The weather delay at Houston resulted in some adjustments.
“We have a rain plan that we always have,” Houston said. “I saw the forecast. Even though the weather guys said it was a minimal chance of that stuff, still we had a plan. Once it got past hour two, then you had to adjust that plan because you don’t carry that much stuff.
“We sent somebody to go out. You can’t really just say we’re going to order a bunch of sandwiches. You’re feeding an army. We brought in some bread and sandwich meat, some snacks and some bananas, fruit. Gatorades and all of that stuff. Kind of fed them dinner in the middle of this stuff because after a while, you knew it was going to be a long night.
“Just tried to get some food in them, keep them off their feet, get them out of their pads. They stayed in their pads for the first weather delay and the first part of the second weather delay. Tried to talk to them about staying off their feet, stay hydrated, try to get rest. A lot of them were watching film on their phones and stuff like that.”
“I thought they stayed pretty dialed in because I’ve been through those things before. That’s the longest one I’ve had, but we’ve had some long ones before, and that’s really the key, how they handle it. I was very pleased with how they handled it. Again, that shows how much we’ve matured. They came out ready to play. I thought we played well early. Obviously, we had a stretch there where we had some mistakes that really cost us there in the second quarter and got us in a hole. But we fought back from that and gave ourselves a chance to win the game.”
Better late-game efficiency needed
After the Pirates rallied from a 24-10 deficit at halftime to tie the score at 24 with 6:44 left, ECU had two possessions to take the lead. Houston talked about what needs to happen in those late-game situations.
“The execution obviously,” he said. “I thought we had a great opportunity there with a 1:20 and two timeouts. Had a drive going. Had a very makeable third down. Just a better decision right there because we had a play that didn’t make it and ended up having to punt it away.
“Then when we got it back, we didn’t have very good field position and had to be careful there that you don’t give the ball game back to them. But we were very, very aggressive with our play calling there because I felt we had the momentum. What a great job to get ourselves in that situation and our kids felt we had the momentum. We just have to execute better right there. You had the play call. You had the situation. We just have to execute better.”
Houston is counting on his team’s resiliency in making a good showing before a national television audience.
“Well, I’d be very disappointed if they weren’t ready to play,” said the Pirates coach. “That’s the first thing. That was my message to them (Sunday). We’re excited about the opportunity, but at the end of the day, a lot of that stuff is we’re excited to be back at home. We really hope we have a great home crowd. It’s tough on Thursday nights so we really need the students to turn out.
“It should be a great atmosphere for them. A lot of that stuff, you can’t worry about it. We’ve got to focus on South Florida. That’s the big thing. The other stuff is kind of the outside of the realm of the locker room kind of stuff. So, we’ve got to focus on South Florida and trying to play well and how to win the ball game.
“I wish it wasn’t as short as this one has turned out to be, but it’s good to get back out there and play.”