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Kugler takes blame for embarrassing loss to Rice

Sean Kugler is in his 5th year as UTEP's head football coach.

EL PASO - Texas (CBS4) UTEP football coach Sean Kugler is taking the blame for Saturday night's embarrassing loss to Rice.

Here are his quotes from his weekly Monday Media Luncheon:

Opening Statement

“It’s a very disappointing loss to Rice. It directly falls on me as the head coach. We did not play well in any phase. They were the more physical opponent. That was evident when you look at rushing yards, they had over 300 yards rushing. It was a tough game for us from an injury standpoint. Greg Long will be out for the season. He had surgery yesterday. He broke his leg, it was a pretty severe injury. We also lost [Alan] Busey, wide receiver, for the year to shoulder surgery, Jayson VanHook for the year to shoulder surgery, and Khalil Brown to an achilles with a season ending injury. There are several other guys who I will not know their availability until we get through the week. That’s Ryan Metz, Derron Gatewood the center, Christian Buckingham nose guard and Michael Lewis.

“As a team, we felt we needed to control time of possession against Rice. We didn’t do that. They controlled it for 34 minutes. That usually equates to four extra possessions, which they did get in this game. We lost third downs and in the red zone. We turned the ball over offensively for the second straight week. We have to eliminate that trend moving forward if we expect to turn this thing around. We did not run the ball efficiently. We gave up four sacks, there were too many hits on the quarterback, there were six overall quarterback hits. As a result, Ryan Metz, I do not know the availability of him for this game. We were 29 percent on third downs, our goal is 50. I really thought Ryan Metz played a very efficient game. He was 18-of-33 for 203 yards and a touchdown with zero interceptions but understand this, he had six drops. Four of those six drops came on third downs that were completions and very accurately delivered balls. They ended every single one of those drives. That’s a trend that we need to end if we’re going to turn this thing around. Positive things, we did have three fourth down conversions in that game. We were very minimally penalized in that game.

“Defensively, we gained a turnover. We had a sack by [Devin] Cockrell and Nik Needham had two sacks in that game. Nik Needham also had a fumble recovery and had five tackles. He will lead our team out on Friday night against Arizona as the pick axe carrier. Nik has really had a solid year for us. He played well in the first game and this game, and he had an outstanding camp as well. Where I was very disappointed defensively, they rushed for 6.2 [yards] per carry, 306 yards and three touchdowns. Arizona is a team that runs the ball extremely efficiently. We know what they’re going to try to do Friday night again. That’s a problem we need to solve and solve quickly.

“They were 40 percent on third downs. We had two sacks and three quarterback hits on the night, we need to get to the quarterback more efficiently. We talked about the time of possession. Another area we need to improve on, they were 4-for-5 on red zone scores. That’s 11-of-12 on the year. Our goal is to keep that below 70 percent. The disappointing thing is we had probably five times where guys were wrapped up in the backfield that ended up being significant gains. We have to cash in when the players are in position to make those tackles. We did have one fourth down conversion stop, which was a positive that ended up being a fumble recovered by Nik Needham.

“Special teams, I thought we had good protection. [Alan] Luna had four punts with over a 40-yard net, he had a 44.4 average. The disappointing thing, we had a pooch punt there right at midfield and we banged that out of the end zone. We need to be a little better there. And we did not have the best coverage, we had a 13 and 18 yard return against us on punt. Punt return, I thought Terry Juniel made good decisions. He had a nice bluff there down near the goal line that resulted in a touchback. He has made good decisions all year, he hasn’t had many opportunities for returns. Kickoff cover, two of the kicks were touchbacks. [Brady] Viles did a nice job kicking it out and then we had an onside that we did not cash in on at the end of the game when it was 24-14. And then kickoff return, we had zero returns, we had a guy #44 that really kind of handled us last year on kickoff returns. One of the goals was to handle him and I thought the guys did a good job on that. But again, a disappointing loss, it falls on me as the head coach to fix it. That’s what we’re in the process of doing right now. I like the fact that we have a quick turnaround. Sometimes when you have a disappointing loss, the best thing is to get right back to work, get right back on the field. We have already had a practice for Arizona this morning. We are already in the initial stages of game planning for Arizona.”

(On Arizona)

“Arizona is a very fast, athletic team. They have made a lot of strides, particularly on defense. This year they are doing a good job in the turnover department. They are +3 in turnovers, they have gained five turnovers on defense, they have only turned it over twice on offense. They have been a little highly penalized. They beat Northern Arizona 62-34. They just lost a very close game to an outstanding Houston team that is usually very explosive on offense. They lost 19-16. This is their first road game, this is a former rivalry a long time ago and I think the old-time WAC fans will be excited about Arizona coming here.

“Offensively they are explosive, they are close to 40 points per game. They average 329 yards rushing per game, 7.7 yards per carry. That’s outstanding, that probably leads the nation or comes close right now. Overall 483 yards a game, but the thing that stands out, 7.1 yards per play, that’s explosive. They have only given up two sacks. They are very good on third downs, 41 percent. They are very good in the red zone, they are close to 70 percent on red zone touchdowns. I mentioned they have only given up two turnovers.

“The quarterback is very athletic, although I see on the depth chart they list two quarterbacks as potentially playing for them. The quarterback [Brandon] Dawkins, he’s 6-3, 210, he runs a 4.5 and you can see it on film. He hits 4.5 by his second or third step. This guy can really run. Last year he had 944 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. This year he is already their second-leading rusher with 5.9 yards per carry and two touchdowns. He is also a 57 percent completion guy with 267 yards and a touchdown with zero interceptions. As I mentioned, they are taking care of the ball well. They have two smaller backs, in particular [J.J.] Taylor 5-6, freshman, he is probably the same size as Walter Dawn. He is very explosive. He’s got 135 yards rushing and a 5.0 average. And then [Nick] Wilson, 5-10 tailback more powerfully built has a 10.9 yard average per carry and one touchdown and he did not play versus Houston. I do not know his availability for this game.

“They have two slot receivers, more on the smaller size, [Tony] Ellison 5-11 and [Shun] Brown 5-9, they are first and second on the team in receptions. Ellison has a long of 43 yards and 104 yards. And then #6 Brown has a 16.8 average per catch and a long of 35. They are really quick and fast receivers. They have an experienced offensive line, they are led by their left tackle who is a three-year starter. Their right guard who is a huge man 6-7, 325, he’s a four-year starter as a graduate for them.

“I think where they have made the most strides as a team is defensively. Marcel Yates is their defensive coordinator. He is an outstanding coach, I had the opportunity to work with him at Boise State. He has done an excellent job. They are running pretty much Boise State’s scheme there. They held an explosive Houston offense to 380 yards and only 19 points. They are only giving up 21 points per game. They have gotten much better at defending the run, they are only giving up 4.3 yards per carry. Overall they have two sacks, they have four interceptions and one fumble. They have been good on third downs, but where they have really been good is they have been stingy in the red zone. Teams have been in the red zone 11 times and only scored touchdowns three times. So they have been outstanding there. They have four freshmen that are playing for them on defense. They went with youth and these guys are all playing extremely well. #2 [Lorenzo] Burns the cornerback, he leads their team in tackles. He also has an interception. #14 [Kylan] Wilborn an outside linebacker, he leads their team in tackles for losses and sacks. He also has a forced fumble. Another freshman linebacker, [Tony] Fields, he is second on the team in tackles with 13. And then their safety/nickel type guy is a good looking guy, about 6-2, 205, #6 [Demetrius] Flannigan, he leads their team in interceptions and he’s third on their team in tackles. This is a very young, fast, athletic defense. As I mentioned, the four freshmen that are playing for these guys are outstanding.

“Special teams, they have a good punter. They are only averaging 2.3 yards per return against them so they have a good coverage unit. Punt return, this is where they’re outstanding. #6 Brown the slot receiver I mentioned earlier, he’s got a long touchdown of 66 yards as a punt returner, he’s averaging 24.3 yards per return. That would lead the nation if he did that consistently throughout the year. Also their kickoff returner #2 [Tyrell Johnson] is outstanding, he is a smaller guy, 5-7, 164 pounds. He has a long of 58 and he’s averaging 26 yards per return. So they have two outstanding returners who are extremely fast. Their coverage units are solid on punt. They have had some busted against them on kickoff cover, we’re hoping that we can get that going as far as our kickoff return team with Keynan Foster and Warren Redix. Their PAT/field goal kicker is solid, he’s 3-of-4 on the year and he’s got a long of 45 and he’s 8-of-9 on PATs. So this is a very fast, athletic team, Pac-12 opponent. We’ll be on the national stage on ESPN on Friday night. I would ask the Miner fans to come out and support us in full force. I thought the fans the other night were outstanding. We didn’t hold up our end of the bargain on the field. But they were energized and they were trying to help our team out as much as they could in all the critical situations. I would ask that they could do it again this Friday night.”

(On the primary focus for making improvement)

“Fundamentals. If you’re having issues with tackling, you focus in on tackling. If you’re having issues with ball security, you focus in on ball security. Those are two things that we hit exclusively today. If you have issues in the red zone, you need to spend more time instead of doing maybe scout work or team work or individual work, spend more time in the red zone. When we have something that’s glaring, we need to attack it and you do it through hard work.”

(On making offensive adjustments)

“We do need to run the ball more efficiently. I think there were times that there were holes that weren’t hit. And then there were times that the holes weren’t there. Rice ran a lot of stunts and clogged up some holes. We’ve got to be better on both ends. We’ve got to be better up front blocking, again Rice out-physicaled us there, and we’ve got to be better at hitting the holes but more importantly we’ve got to be better with ball security and can’t turn the ball over. It’s the second week in a row that we’ve fumbled and ended drives. Another thing you look at is personnel. I like what I’ve seen from a practice standpoint with the two freshmen, Josh Fields and Ronald Awatt. Those guys are going to get opportunities in this game. Guys get opportunities, they get a couple of carries, they make the most of it and they get a few more. Josh did some nice things in this past game, and he’ll get more opportunities in this game. And then Ronald Awatt will get some opportunities as well. I feel like in a week or two we’ll get Quardraiz Wadley back in the mix, and from a talent standpoint we’ll be back to full speed with our running back crew.”

(On evaluating Saturday’s game)

“You can always sit there and harp on the negative, but you’ve got to look at some positives too and guys that had good individual performances. Again, I point to Ryan Metz. He was outstanding in the game, and he wasn’t helped again for the second week in a row with drops. That’s something that needs to be eliminated, but you can’t fault him for that when you put an accurate ball out there. And there were some other individual performances. I mentioned Nik Needham, he has been outstanding. Julian Jackson, it’s the second week in a row that he had over eight tackles. We didn’t have Alvin Jones for the first half and we challenged one of the linebackers to step up. [Treyvon] Hughes came in and had 11 tackles in the game. Those are great individual performances and you try to build upon those. You try to correct the mistakes as quickly as you can, move on and you try to attack your weaknesses. But you do have to acknowledge the positive things and remain positive with the guys. We’re two weeks into the season. We are 0-2, but we’re two weeks into the season. There’s a lot of season left.”

(On the quarterback depth chart after Ryan Metz)

“We’re going to roll with Zack [Greenlee] and then Mark [Torrez] will be ready to go. Zach probably had the best camp of all three quarterbacks from an efficiency standpoint and everything, he has the best handle on the run game and those type things, but Mark Torrez is right there. In fact, we put Mark in the game the other night before Zack for the reason being Mark is very athletic, he is the guy that can get out of things when nothing presents [itself], he can make plays with his legs. The rush that Rice was presenting at the end of the game when they put a hit on Ryan, I was very concerned about that, so I wanted somebody in there who was a little more mobile. I wouldn’t rule out that we we’ll see both quarterbacks in this game and a mixture of other things. We have to generate yardage, whoever gives us the best chance to do that will be the guy that’s in there.”

(On dealing with injuries to the offensive line)

“Offensive line, we lose our right tackle for the year, but Jerrod Brooks steps in. He has started games in the past for us. When we went with our extra tight end stuff, he went in at tackle and Greg went to tight end. So we do have an experienced guy there. Tanner Stallings will take over at center for Gatewood. Tanner has started games for us. So fortunately for us, we do have guys that have played before. But you could be stuck in a position like that where you’re starting a true freshman. That’s how the game is. But we do have two experienced guys there. What it does put you in is a very tight pickle when it comes to depth. We can’t afford a whole lot more injuries at that position. All of a sudden you’re very thin.”

(On preparing for a mobile quarterback)

“When you’ve got a running quarterback that’s very athletic like they do, you try to keep that guy in the pocket and keep him contained where he can’t break plays and make plays with his legs. He’s a 57 percent passer, so you try to keep him in there and make him a 50 percent passer by trying to get pressure on him, maybe force some errant throws, and try to get some interceptions. Guys like that do scare you, especially when you’re looking at 329 yards rushing per game and he is the second-leading rusher. This is a talented guy that you’ve got to keep contained. The fact that they list possibly two quarterbacks, they’ve got two guys in that same category that we need to really keep our eyes on.”

(On game plan adjustments should Zack Greenlee or Mark Torrez have to play)

“Zack does a great job of handling the run checks, just like Ryan did. Zack has got an extremely strong arm, he can make all the throws. You’re probably not looking at as much movement stuff. Zack is not quite as nimble as Ryan is when it comes to escapability and those type things. But as far as the offense, he has a great understanding of everything. And same with Torrez. Torrez probably can do a little bit more movement stuff, a little bit more zone read stuff with him and allow him to make plays with his legs. So he brings a little more dynamic things when it comes to his legs. Again, I’m confident in both of those quarterbacks moving forward.”

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