ECU football coach Mike Houston simultaneously acknowledged the talent of UCF and lamented his team’s inability on Saturday night to cash in on the numerous chances it nonetheless had to beat the Knights.
Houston held true on Tuesday to his immediate comments after the Pirates let a late lead slip away in a 20-16 loss in Orlando. A long final drive by the Knights included a conversion on fourth-and-long play and came on the heels of a couple of stalled Pirate drives in the fourth quarter. Houston said Saturday night it was a game changed by one play here and one play there.
“Naturally, I’m biased, but I don’t think it should have come down to the last drive,” Houston said on Tuesday as ECU embarked on its scheduled bye week. “I thought our guys played very, very hard, did a lot of good things and missed a lot of opportunities. ... To be deep in the red zone so many times and only have one touchdown is very frustrating. To not be able to get a couple of stops there in the second half is very frustrating.”
Houston contended that UCF had plenty to do with the outcome of the game, but he said it was there for the taking for ECU (3-3, 1-1 American Athletic Conference).
That makes for a bittersweet bye week for the Pirates, who travel to Houston on Oct. 23.
Although the bye will be typical in terms of pushing younger, less experienced players to the forefront and giving season-long starters and key reserves some needed rest, the break comes at a pivotal time. The regular season is halfway over, the Pirates are halfway to being bowl eligible for the first time since 2014 and are still in the conference title conversation.
With that in mind, Houston said there is much to keep in mind during the week off.
“We talked kind of big picture with the players on Sunday because I felt like you can step back and do that this week,” Houston said. “Next week’s a big week, and every week’s a big week because when I took this job and you look at everything that makes ECU so great ... Football is important here and our fan base is passionate. They want to see the success on the field the same as we do. You want fans that care and I’m trying to get everybody rowing in the same direction, whether you’re talking about administration, fans, players, coaches — everybody.”
Houston described frustrating losses to strong teams like UCF as part of the process, with the next step being winning such close games.
A .500 mark at midseason might not have been a specific goal, but it comes with promise for a team that has not produced a winning record since the aforementioned ‘14 team went 8-5.
“A loss like the other night is frustrating, especially coming off a three-game win streak and playing so well on homecoming against Tulane,” Houston said. “But at the same time, I see where our team is. Now that you’re in those frustrating losses against really good teams in this league, now it’s time to have phenomenal wins against that team. If you win that thing 16-13 or whatever the other night, it’s a celebration like no other down in that locker room in Florida. The guys that were in that locker room two years ago, it’s completely flipped. This is a big part of our season, but we’re excited. I can’t wait to get down to Houston a week from Saturday.”