Mike Houston has studied the tape of a 10-7 American Athletic Conference loss to Charlotte on Saturday and relived the missed scoring opportunities that precluded a Homecoming win.
“As with every week and especially with a close loss like that, I’ve reviewed it a lot.” said the fifth-year East Carolina football coach on Tuesday morning. “That’s not something in my position that you just look at it casually one time.
“I mean, this is your life, and so you don’t sleep very good. You can watch it from a lot of different angles and a lot of different perspectives, and so I’ve done that a good bit over the last several days since the end of the game on Saturday.
“So, the frustrating thing is you had several opportunities to win the ball game, several opportunities to put points on the board throughout the day, several opportunities to keep Charlotte off the field throughout the day, but we were not effective enough, consistently enough, in order to win the ball game.
“You can look at any of the three phases. You can look at things that we need to do better, that we expect to do better, and that we have to improve on. So there’s lots of room for improvement. The tough thing is looking at it because you had a great opportunity to win the ball game in the fourth quarter, and that we did not get it done.”
Missed field goal at end
Andrew Conrad was wide on a 48-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the score at 10 with 34 seconds left. Houston said a significant breeze did not blow the boot off course. The wind was at Conrad’s back.
“The wind was pretty much vertically down the field throughout the game (from the west),” Houston said. “There was not much. There might’ve been a touch right to left, but not much. Most of that was just plant foot and just being in those situations. He hit a 49-yarder last week against SMU, so certainly we were well within his range, and it’s one he expects to hit, and I would give him the opportunity to kick that kick every day because I watch him hit those kicks all throughout the season in practice and in games.”
Houston said competition continues among kickers in the program.
“There’s competition at every position week to week throughout our whole roster,” he said. “Laith (Marjan, who does kickoffs) is one of our kickers. I would not say that he is competing at a point where he’s going to beat Andrew out right now, but there are other guys there that are competing week to week now.
“Andrew is our best placekicker based on everything I’ve seen every single day up to today. If that changes, then it will change between now and some point in the future. But there is competition. There will be competition at the end of practice (Tuesday) between multiple kickers.
“They’ll be put in pressure situations with a live rush. We do that every single week. That is the way our program runs, and the vast majority of college football programs are run across the country.”
Mason Garcia and Alex Flinn have started at quarterback for the Pirates, who are 1-6 overall and 0-3 in the AAC. ECU has struggled with consistency on offense, but Raheim Jeter does not appear to be a potential solution.
“Raheim is a true freshman, right out of high school, and love his potential,” Houston said. “He has some physical abilities. He is a very intelligent young guy. He has good charisma and presence about him. He’s going to be a very good player for the Pirates in time, and I look at him each week. We do get him reps with the travel team offense each week, but I can promise you if I thought he could help us one bit, then he would be on that field, and there will be a day when he is on that field.
“There’s no doubt. And you’re going to see him at times … later this season. I mean, we plan to play him. We played him one game. We plan to play him in three more games. We would like to try to redshirt him, but if it was to the point where we thought that he would give us the best chance to win on game day, then that’s what we would do.”
Wood stands out
Safety Julius Wood was a standout last week with an interception and involvement in 10 tackles, including five solo stops.
“He’s having a great senior season,” Houston said. “He’s having the kind of season that we hoped he would have and that he hoped he would have. And he continues to play better every single week.
“The thing that I doubt a lot of people noticed on Saturday is he changed positions on Saturday and went from the field safety to the boundary safety, which is a pretty drastic change when you look at it from his perspective.
“It’s a different position, and he had a couple of mistakes, but that’s it. He played very, very well. That speaks to his experience. I think that speaks to his dedication. I think that just speaks to his versatility, and so very pleased with the way he played on Saturday. Very pleased with the way he has played all throughout the year.”
Houston discussed the practice emphasis this week as ECU prepares to play Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Texas-San Antonio (4-3, 3-0 AAC).
“Practice focus has got to be number one on making sure that we have a very solid game plan and that we are doing a great job of coaching our players to understand all the intricacies of that plan and that they, starting (Tuesday), work on execution and playing together, and being cohesive. I think that’s going to be very, very important.
“We have got to play a very physical football game on Saturday. It’s the kind of team we want to be. Certainly, execution has to be a piece of that because you have to execute physically; you have to play at a high physical contact level, but you have to also execute at a high physical contact level. That’s always a challenge. That’s a challenge finding that ability to do that. Most of the time that comes with reps.
“We have got to make sure we put our players in the correct positions throughout the week to be able to see the right looks, to be able to execute against the right looks, and everything we want to see on Saturday.
“Then we’ve got to go take practice to the game field Saturday. We got to be able to take our execution, the things we’re doing in practice, and go out there and do it versus live action on Saturday. And so, we have a great opportunity against a very, very good football team, an old football team.
“It’s on the road. It’s going to be at a place that has a lot of passion for their program, and it’s going to be a loud environment, and so we have a great challenge but a great opportunity on Saturday. And our kids are going to be really excited about going down there to play. Can’t wait to kick it off Saturday afternoon.”
ECU’s struggles on offense can be attributed in part to an offensive line that had not played together to any extent prior to this season.
“We’ve seen some improvements at times,” Houston said. “I think the challenge has been the cohesiveness of getting five new guys, six, seven, eight new guys to gel together. Some of them very, very young. We obviously played two redshirt freshmen on the offensive line Saturday.
“They’re going to be really good players for us in time. They are up and down right now because of just their first time seeing it. So that’s going to be a huge piece for this game this Saturday, is for us to play at a higher level execution-wise and fundamentally and collectively together. I think that’s the real key, but that’s the challenge when you’re coming into the season when you have an all-new group.
“You don’t just snap your fingers, and all of a sudden they’re a veteran, cohesive group. So yeah, that is the big focus this week is getting that group playing better together and executing better together.”
This week’s matchup will be indoors at the Alamodome.
“It’ll be different,” Houston said. “It’ll be different for the players from a depth perception standpoint. All of a sudden, you don’t have the sky; you’ve got a ceiling, so it’ll be a little bit different.
“We’ll get there early on game day and then go out there and catch some kicks and catch passes and do those things and experience all that. Be ready to go. After a few minutes, you get kind of used to it.
“The big challenge is the noise; it amplifies the volume of the noise, and so when you have even a decent crowd, it’s going to be much louder. When you have a large crowd — which they’re probably going to expect 30,000 there on Saturday — it’ll be really, really loud. And so, you’ve got to be prepared for that. There’s certain things that we do during practice to prepare for noise from a communication standpoint, so that’ll be a factor this week during practice.
“The plus is you don’t have to worry about lightning. You don’t have to worry about wind. You don’t have to worry about conditions. It should be fairly optimal from that standpoint. So that does allow you to understand what you see during pregame as far as your distances on kicks and punts, and things like that should be fairly consistent throughout the game.”