East Carolina football coach Mike Houston has been upbeat this week coming off the Pirates’ first win of the season.
Mistakes and miscues are easier to fix when they didn’t contribute to a loss, and the way the players have refocused in practice following a win has impressed the fourth-year head coach.
Yet, one topic has caused Houston’s voice to rise and his muscles to tense, and it’s the way Old Dominion receiver Ali Jennings III was allowed to run wild over the defense. Jennings might as well have been the Monarchs’ only threat on offense, and the receiver still collected 200 yards and all three ODU scores on eight receptions.
When asked how the Pirates’ secondary responded to that performance in practice this week, Houston said the unit took too many unnecessary risks throughout the game.
“The stupid stuff,” Houston started, before collecting himself. “Listen, if somebody’s better than us, they’re better than us. But the cheap stuff, we got to do better. We got to coach them better, obviously, and we can’t be out there just gambling and doing stupid stuff.”
Jennings was wide open on several of his catches and long gains as the ECU defense broke down on the back end. Safety Jireh Wilson said on Tuesday that the mistakes were mostly in communication and that players lost track of some assignments.
“That’s not something we want to put out there,” Wilson said of the game film. “It was a lot of mistakes that was really on our part, as a lot of a lot of those plays were just pretty much wide-open touchdowns. It’s just communicating on the back end and make sure everybody’s hearing each other so that when we switch we’re on the same page.”
Wilson, who came up with an interception in the opening week against N.C. State, said that the defense still has supreme confidence in its ability and aspects like communication can be easily fixed.
As a whole, defensive players haven’t been shy in touting confidence in their play and Houston likes that swagger. He just wants that aggressive style to be played within the boundaries of each player’s assignments on a given play.
“What you want to do is be confident, play aggressive, but do your job,” Houston said. “You start running into somebody else’s job, that’s what I mean by gambling. You’re the deep third player and you start driving on a flat route, that’s just stupid. That’s just not fundamentally sound. And so you can’t make those mistakes. Good defenses don’t make those mistakes.”
It might be the most important week of the young season for playing sound, fundamental defense as Campbell quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams has a way of extending plays and putting opponents into bad spots.
Williams was the team’s leading rusher in last week’s loss to William & Mary as he ran for 91 yards and two scores while throwing for 186 yards and a touchdown.
On offense, the Pirates found a balance against the Monarchs that they would like to see continue against the Camels. ECU rushed 47 times and attempted 39 passes.
Offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick said that even with all of the playmakers on offense — a trio of wide receivers and two pass-catching tight ends — the running game is what keeps the unit unpredictable.
“We always say the running game is the quarterback’s best friend,” Kirkpatrick said. “No doubt it is much easier to throw the ball when they’re playing the run. It’s hard to throw the ball when the defense just puts their ears back, rush, and run all these exotic coverages and give you all these different looks.
“We were the most balanced offense in the nation last year and that’s really what we want to be. The ability to do either one equally well.”