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Houston breaks down his QB plan, rule changes

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East Carolina freshman quarterback Bryan Gagg, with ball, runs up the middle en route to a touchdown at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium during the Purple-Pold Game on April 13.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

An ideal situation for the East Carolina football offense this year would be a completely healthy and productive season from quarterback Holton Ahlers, with veteran and former starter Reid Herring also healthy and available for game action.

Ahlers and Herring both faced injuries at times in 2018, which plays into why first-year Pirate coach Mike Houston said Wednesday that he would like for freshmen Bryan Gagg and Alex Flinn both to redshirt, but also that multiple quarterbacks need to be prepared to play if needed.

Gagg, a December signee from Bradenton, Fla., earned valuable experience during ECU spring practice as the No. 3 QB behind Ahlers and Herring. Flinn, an in-state recruit from AC Reynolds High School in Asheville, will join the team during the summer.

“Obviously with Holton and Reid and their experience, they have kind of separated themselves from the rest,” Houston said during the American Athletic Conference spring football coaches teleconference. “I think Bryan Gagg, being here for the spring, he definitely gave himself a jump-start on the No. 3 spot. Alex Flinn will come in this summer, and you just don’t know from him until he gets here.

“I think that where Alex and Bryan fall on the depth chart will be dependent on the summer and fall camp and how those two guys compete and develop. I would anticipate one of them being the third (QB) and the other being the fourth and trying to redshirt both, but at the same time, you have to have a No. 3 ready.”

ECU concluded spring drills with the annual Purple-Gold Game on April 13, which included a big moment for Gagg when he ended a two-minute drill drive by running 18 yards for a touchdown. Ahlers and Herring were both steady and showed poise in the second half.

Houston and a few other coaches were making their debuts on the AAC teleconference. Houston is looking to win with the Pirates after compiling a 37-6 record in three seasons at James Madison.

He was asked an array of questions, ranging from specifics on the Pirates’ spring practices to his reaction to college football rule changes made earlier this week. The targeting rule, for illegal hits to the head, was altered so that video review officials must make a definitive ruling to either confirm or overturn if a player should receive a 15-yard penalty and be ejected from the game, compared to previous seasons when the initial call on the field could stand even after a targeting review.

“I think it’s a move in the right direction, because that way it can take some of the human error out of the play on the field,” Houston said of replay officials making the final decision. “It allows the replay booth to properly evaluate all aspects of targeting. … The penalty that is associated with it is a pretty severe penalty, so you don’t want a mistake made.”

AAC coaches also weighed in on the growing trend of players entering the NCAA transfer portal, especially quarterbacks, and some decisions this offseason on which players are immediately eligible to play at their new schools and which players are not granted that distinction.

“It’s a little bit of a storm right now, and the NCAA does not have a good grasp or handle on how to do this thing,” Cincinnati third-year coach Luke Fickell said. “It is really gray right now. … We made the bed this year and I think we kind of need to finish it out this year and not hold people back, because it is going to be a black eye on college football, but moving forward we have to do a really good job of figuring out what it is that we want.”

Among the three new American coaches, Houston is the only one without prior experience as a head coach in college football’s top division. Most of his 80-25 record has come at the Football Championship Subdivision level, which he addressed when he asked why he left James Madison for ECU in December.

“(JMU) has 20-plus starters back off a nine-win team, so obviously that program is in really good shape,” he said. “You are talking about me, being 47 years old, what is the next step for my career. We had done everything you can do at the FCS level, but it was wanting the right situation at the FBS level.

“I think being a North Carolina native and a former high school football coach in this state, there are strong ties with my family and relationships in the Southeast. From the days at The Citadel and Lenoir-Rhyne, I feel very comfortable in this region and will be able to recruit the places where I’ve always had strong ties.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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