East Carolina coach Mike Houston would prefer not to rehash the mistakes that resulted in a 24-9 loss at Tulane on Saturday, but he took time on Tuesday to review the bumps in the road that dropped the Pirates to 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the American Athletic Conference going into a Homecoming game with Memphis (4-2, 2-1 AAC) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU).
“Obviously disappointed in the performance and not getting the win,” Houston said. “Obviously, we did not play our best game of the year and probably played our worst game of the year. Wasn’t for lack of effort or determination. We just did not make some plays when we needed to make some plays, and they made some plays when they needed to make some plays, and then we made a couple of mistakes, and they didn’t make many mistakes.
“In a close ball game, it all turns out that you lose the game on the road, and it’s all correctable things and it’s things that we’ve addressed already and we’ll address throughout the week, and so we can be motivated and grow from it and improve on it.”
Numerous ECU players came out of the game at Tulane with ailments. The health of the running back room, which has already lost Rahjai Harris for the season, is a concern.
“Everybody has bumps and bruises this time of the year and things you have to work through, and that’s just the nature of the sport and the nature of the game,” Houston said. “You’re playing in a very physical league, and so it’s the nature of the league. So, we’ve all got to deal with that stuff, and we have a great athletic training staff that does a great job taking care of our kids. Our kids are very dedicated to taking care of their bodies, and so they’re all working together to make sure that we get guys back out on the field as soon as possible.”
Houston recapped the illegal receiver downfield penalty that nullified a touchdown on ECU’s second possession. The Pirates settled for a 27-yard field goal by Owen Daffer for a 3-0 lead.
“The rule is the lineman can be no more than three yards down the field on a pass play, on a forward pass play,” Houston said. “And so, the play call was a run pass option, and so the way that works is the offensive line, they’re blocking the run, and the running back, he’s running the run, and then the quarterback has the decision to make to either hand the ball to the back or throw the ball as part of the relief, and that’s the pass option to it. The mistake that was made was the pass, if it’s going to be thrown, has to be quick, so that way the linemen aren’t down the field.
“It ended up being a scramble situation and Holton (Ahlers) should have just ran the football, and it’s something he knows, and he made a mistake, and he should have just ran the ball, tried to score right there, because as soon as he threw the ball, we had at least one guy that was four yards down the field, and that makes it a pretty easy call. Now, you don’t see it called a lot of times because the officials really have to be on it in order to catch that, but you’re in such tight confines down there near the goal line in the red zone that it’s a little bit more obvious there than it would be in the open field.”
Another red zone flag
ECU had made a third down stop deep in the red zone, but the Green Wave was awarded a first down on a personal foul penalty.
“They were going to be fourth and goal from about the six, which you would assume they’re probably going to kick a field goal from there, so it would’ve been 3-3,” Houston said. “We had a player who, after the whistle, after the play is over, had an interaction with an opposing Tulane player, losing his composure, letting his emotions control him. It’s something that we preach and are very strict with, and that’s why we haven’t had those and shouldn’t have those. And it’s a very selfish act and it cost us, it gave them first and goal inside the two, and they were able to score a few plays later. That’s the difference in four points right there.”
Conversion kick struggles
After ECU scored for a 9-7 lead, Daffer missed his fifth conversion kick of the season.
“I’ll just say that we’ve got to be better,” Houston said. “I’ve spent more time working on PATs and field goals this year than I ever have in my career, and it’s something that we’re very determined on, and we will always put the best players out there to play, and that’s it. … Those guys spend a lot of time in practice working on that stuff.”
The Pirates have looked at backup quarterbacks Alex Flinn and Ryan Stubblefield as placekick holders which would provide an option for fake field goals.
“Both of those guys have worked there, and I have had them there in the spring, had them there this fall,” Houston said. “They’re not very good at it. I could put them out there and they would cause a lot of problems, but the thing is, doing this for a living and doing this every day, I put the guys out there that give us the best chance for success.”
Blocked field goal
ECU trailed 14-9 at the close of the first half when the Wave blocked a 46-yard field goal attempt.
“That ball was struck very well, and I’m confident that that field goal would’ve been good,” Houston said. “Unfortunately, you had an operation error with the rest of the unit. That, it’s something you can’t have. Like I said, we’ve got to work better on it. Coach (Steve) Shankweiler (offensive line coach) is very determined to get that fixed up front. We’ll get the operation fixed. So, it’s unfortunate that that happened at that point in time.
“That was a breakdown with the rest of the unit outside of the kicker. The kicker did his job on that play.”
In preparing for Memphis, the Pirates will be working on fixing factors that negatively impacted the Tulane matchup.
“We’ve got to do better,” Houston said. “We’ve got to correct the mistakes that we made Saturday. Obviously, we’ve got to play better. Our execution has to be better, all three phases. I think you look at that game Saturday, you’ve got two really good football teams and that game comes down to a few plays where we did not make the play. Tulane did make the play. It comes down to a handful of mistakes. …
“We have a group that is very motivated. We have created a situation where there is a good football team in this building, and they are very motivated to go out and play well on game day.
Energy moving forward
The Pirates sought to put the loss at Tulane behind them quickly.
“I saw that from the way we practiced Sunday,” Houston said. “I’ve seen that from the energy that the kids have in the building. We all want the same thing, and I’m excited about this Saturday night. I’d rather focus on the positives of that. …
“The positives are we have a home game against a very good Memphis football team. They come in here off a tough loss on the road against Houston, and it’s going to be a great matchup. It’s Homecoming. I expect a huge crowd. I expect them to be passionate, because that’s what Pirate Nation is.
“I’m very motivated to make sure that our kids are ready to play, and we’re going to work our tails off this week. So can’t wait for Saturday night, and just really appreciate all the fans and the way they support our program and their passion for us. Can’t wait to get back out there on the field. The Pirates will be ready to play.”