Mike Houston

ECU football head coach Mike Houston talks to a referee during a previous game.

After the Pirates’ loss to the Navy Midshipmen (3-3) on Oct. 17, the East Carolina University football team (1-3) will use its bye-week protocols to prepare for a road matchup against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (2-1) on Oct. 30.

Head Coach Mike Houston stressed the importance of a win on Oct. 17. With a win against Navy, it would have moved the Pirates to a win percentage of .500 in the conference, and would have given them momentum heading into the second half of the season.

“I’m really disappointed in not being able to get what would have been a huge win for our program and would have been a second straight win in American Athletic Conference (AAC) play,” Houston said.

The Pirates’ recent struggles in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) play have been evident, as the team has been 2-9 against conference opponents over the last two seasons. In addition, the Pirates have yet to win an AAC home matchup in each of their last six outings.

Houston said a bye-week will be important in the Pirates’ preparation for the game against Tulsa. With some players sidelined, and a tough road game ahead, the Pirates will look to fire on all cylinders during this break.

“I think this week is a great opportunity for us to really go into next week strong and well prepared, and look forward to playing next Friday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” Houston said.

Houston said with injuries, COVID-19 setbacks, and not having regular summer and spring practices, the development of both the offensive and defensive lines have been affected. Houston said with both lines dealing with setbacks, there is room for growth heading into the latter part of the season.

Houston was not short to praise how both his offensive and defensive lines have made strides and improvements up to this point in the season. He said he is excited for the potential of the defensive front line for many years to come.

“It’s a group that’s gonna be here for a long time. That’s really gonna solidify us defensively up front for the foreseeable future. A lot of competition, a lot of depth, and a lot of ability,” Houston said.

Houston said he was pleased with how the offensive line has been responding to adversity over the last three weeks. In addition, he said he is optimistic as the season moves forward.

Some of the offensive line struggles have been noticeable, specifically in the Georgia State game, Houston said. However, he said he is very pleased with the kind of comradery the group has shown this season.

“I really am excited about that group and the way they have kinda meshed,” Houston said.

With the Southeastern Conference (SEC) giving the University of Alabama (5-0, 5-0 SEC) Head Coach Nick Saban the ability to coach on Oct. 17 against the University of Georgia (3-1, 3-1 SEC), a few days after he tested positive for COVID-19, there was confusion amongst fans as to what the NCAA’s COVID-19 protocols were.

Houston said that day-to-day testing is a part of everyday life now because of COVID-19. As a result of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing protocols, some players missed the game last Saturday.

“I think each conference has spent a lot of time developing their protocols. I know this has been something that the physicians and administrators in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) spent a great amount of time on during the offseason,” Houston said.

Houston has been pleased with how the Pirates have handled COVID-19 tests and contact tracing up to this point, but injuries have additionally been a prevalent issue.

With one active positive COVID-19 test currently at the quarterback position, along with a few others being out due to contract tracing, Houston said he feels positive that they will return for the game on Oct. 30.

“We do expect all of those players to be back with us this weekend, within a day or two of each other. So as we go into next week, that group will be rejoining us as long as there’s no setbacks as far as testing goes,” Houston said.

One new group that has shown potential has been the Pirates’ recruiting class. Houston was quick to note that Freshman running back Rahjai Harris was someone they spent a lot of time recruiting, and it has paid off on the field.

Rahjai Harris has played a large role in the offense this year as of late with his high motor and level of physicality. Over the last two games, Harris has run the ball 41 times for 287 yards, averaging a total of seven yards per carry.

“You get to know him more in-depth as a person, and you see his character on a daily basis. The way he carries himself, the way he interacts with his teammates, how coachable he is, and you see his competitive drive to be great,” Houston said.

With a great opportunity coming up this week against Tulsa, the Pirates are using this bye-week to prepare and bounce back after a 27-23 loss to Navy last weekend. Houston said the team will spend a lot of time working on their own schemes.

Whether if they are in review of film or if they go over individual assignments, Houston said he hopes the Pirates can use this week to gain some momentum for the remainder of conference play. He said he will use this week to utilize some of the younger players that fans have not seen yet.

“This week we’re focusing on a combination of getting ready for Tulsa, and we’re going to spend a certain portion of practice each day repping our stuff against Tulsa and what we expect,” Houston said.

After this bye-week, the Pirates will look to get back on track in the AAC and bring back a win from Tulsa. Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. Oct. 30 at Tulsa and can be found on ESPN2.

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