Whether it’s the Cliff Moore practice facility or a stadium venue, there is a level of effort and execution that East Carolina coach Mike Houston knows is essential to success.
The Pirates prepared properly before dispatching Temple, 45-3, in their most recent combat and will be looking to become bowl eligible at Memphis on Saturday (ESPN+, noon, ET).
Houston shared thoughts on the win over the Owls that put ECU at 5-4 overall and 3-2 in the American Athletic Conference.
“Our kids had a great week of practice,” Houston said. “Things that we’re doing well in practice showed up on game day. I thought our kids were in a good mental space going into the game. Our preparations on Friday and Saturday were really crisp. I thought we were very focused.
“We went out and played exactly that way on Saturday and I thought we had great effort. I thought we had great energy. I thought we had physicality at the line of scrimmage. … We were a superior team, and I think that all those things correlated into a very consistent and very good performance.”
Tight ends emerge
Houston was a tight end in his playing days at Mars Hill. That position has become productive for the Pirates with three scoring receptions that produced a 21-0 lead against Temple.
“We’re playing several guys,” said the ECU coach. “We hope to get Zech Byrd back here pretty soon, and Aaron Jarman’s doing a great job for us, and then Shane (Calhoun) and Ryan (Jones) of course both had touchdowns on Saturday, but they’re doing a great job. I thought Shane had an excellent game in the run game Saturday. But yeah, when I got here there was one tight end in the program. That was it. And he really was not the caliber that we needed.
“Now, we have a room where we have a lot of really good players, and they’re all different, and they allow us to do a lot of different things, and I think our offensive staff is doing a good job of using those guys together and we’re playing 11 personnel. We’re playing some 12 personnel. We’re playing three tight ends at a time in the game.
“So, that group has worked very, very hard and obviously there’s some stability in there and I think you’re seeing some positive production as a result of just everything, the hard work of the staff, the development of that room, the development of those kids, their preparation during the week. There’s a lot that goes into a performance like that like this past Saturday.”
Berry battles through
Myles Berry has been through a position change since arriving at ECU and experienced a personal loss earlier this season.
He had five solo tackles against Temple.
“Myles has worked very hard to get to where he is today,” Houston said. “When I first got here he was in the secondary and I just felt like his skill set was going to continue to develop and his body’s going to continue to develop to be an inside linebacker. It has, and he’s embraced that, and done a great job. I’ll tell you, again, it goes back to one of those things we talked about.
“Your character’s a big part of how good you are as a player. It really is. And players that play at a high level consistently are usually strong character guys. Certainly, he is that and he’s had a tough year with losing his father (Harold) a month and a half or so ago, and he handled that well. He’s handled the time since then well.
“His mom (Carolyn) was there on Saturday for the game and he continues to make his father and his family proud by being the young man that he is. So, I’m excited for him and the season he’s having, and excited to have him as one of our leaders, and a guy that’s probably going to be here for another year.”
The Sunday meals following wins have been more frequent this season. Houston enjoys being with his family under those circumstances.
“It’s gotten to the point where you’re throwing a little bit of variety in there now because those first couple years the wins are so far in between they got the same food all the time. Now, you’re winning a couple games in a row so you’re enjoying some variety on the menu. It’s good.”
The Pirates had steak and hot wings Sunday evening after notching the most wins by an ECU team since 2014.
“I’ve got a little food subcommittee on our leadership council and they pick the menu each week,” Houston said..
Houston was looking for another solid week of practice leading up to this week’s contest at the Liberty Bowl.
“Very similar,” said the third-year ECU coach. “Very similar to every week as far as our preparations for how we want to play. I do think we have to do a great job preparing for Memphis’s tempo. They’re going to go really fast on offense. They snap the ball about every 10 seconds, which is about as fast as you can go with the official spotting the ball and everything, so we’re going to have to do a great job defensively preparing for that up tempo, and they’re going to do a lot of different things with formations and motion and stuff like that,
“It’s a lot of stress defensively, especially given their skill set on that side of the ball. They have some elite players on that side, so that will be a big emphasis, but as far as our preparation for how we’re going to play we need to prepare to play our brand of football — fast, physical, high effort, high energy, playing together, everybody doing their job, playing with a ton of emotion for each other, and with everything we’ve got every play. … That’s how we do it.”
Tigers better at home
Memphis is 4-1 at home this season, the only loss to Texas-San Antonio, which is 9-0. The Tigers are 1-3 on the road.
“I think that they’ve had a some tough losses on the road, at Temple, and at Tulsa, at UCF,” Houston said. “They’ve had some huge wins at home. Mississippi State, Navy, SMU. Big, big wins at home. Mississippi State’s having a good year and they knocked them off there at the Liberty Bowl, so I think they’re an extremely talented team ability-wise. I think they’re very explosive offensively. I think they play very, very well at home.”
ECU must overcome its own road struggles to chow down on Sunday. The Pirates have just one win in four games away from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium although there have been near misses at Central Florida and Houston.
Houston talked about important factors this week.
“I think that there’s going to be some obvious ones with controlling the line of scrimmage and adjusting to their tempo and things like that,” he said “But I think that in big ball games — turnovers or special teams — those are critical factors. You see it every week this time of the year. This time of the year there’s a lot on the line for a lot of these teams you’re playing and when you get in those situations everything gets magnified.
“It’s probably going to come down to a handful of plays Saturday, and so we’ve got to do a great job of taking care of the football. We’ve got to do a great job trying to force turnovers defensively. We’ve got to do a great job with execution. Big plays happen when one unit is executing at a high level and the other unit makes a mistake, and when those two things happen on the same play that’s usually when you see that big play.
“Guys that go out and try to make big plays usually don’t make big plays. Guys that go out and they do their job and the opponent makes a mistake, that’s when the big play happens. We’ve got to do a good job of just playing within ourselves, be us, and just really, really playing with a lot of effort and intensity.”