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Kugler: "We're ready to play in front of our home fans"

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

EL PASO - Texas (CBS4 Sports) UTEP football coach Sean Kugler says his Miners are forgetting about Oklahoma and are now focusing on Saturday's home-opener vs Rice.

Here are coach's quotes from his weekly media luncheon provided by UTEP:

(On Last Week’s Loss at Oklahoma)

“We faced an outstanding Oklahoma team and did not do the things necessary to give ourselves the chance to compete. We talked about not turning it over. We did have one turnover. Kevin Dove had a fumble on a third and short situation. We didn’t run the ball as efficiently as we wanted to. We did at times. I thought Walter Dawn had some outstanding runs in that game. But there were other times I felt we really left yards on the field, where the back could’ve put his foot on the ground and gone north and south. We’ve got to get better at that moving on. Our goal is always 4.5 [yards] per rush. We were only at 3.5 against a very stout front.

“We talked about catching the catchables. We had three drops in that game that all ended series, two of them on third downs. We can’t allow that to happen. The thing I was most disappointed with from an offensive standpoint, we had some pre-snap penalties and assignment errors. We had two formation penalties where the linemen weren’t set when we were putting things in motion. We’ve got to be cleaner with that. We did have a holding call on short yardage where the ball bounced. I probably put that more on the back than the young man who was holding. We did have one clock issue. In the first game, you would expect to have a couple of those things. But against a team like that, you can’t afford to be in a first and 15.

“Some positives offensively, again, the play of Walter Dawn. I really thought Ryan Metz was efficient. I didn’t think he had a lot of help around him as far as drops and those type things, but I thought the protection was clean. We really only gave up one sack and that was more the left tackle getting chipped by the back, it wasn’t necessarily him getting beat. So I thought there were some positives up front moving forward. Defensively, they dominated us. They were 7-for-7 in the red zone. We really had difficulty containing and covering their tight end. That guy is a future first round draft pick. He is one of the best I’ve seen at the collegiate level.

“Their quarterback is outstanding and it showed in that game as a guy who buys time with his legs, he is very patient and very poised and he had some outstanding deep ball throws as well. We didn’t do a great job stopping the run. They were 4.7 [yards] per clip. I mentioned the quarterback’s efficiency and really, the only time he has been inefficient was if we got a lot of pressure on him. We only had one sack and two quarterback hits, not enough on that guy.

“A big negative that came out of this game that will carry into the next game, Alvin Jones was ejected in the second half for a targeting foul. Anytime you go up near the head area, you’re putting your fate in the referee’s hands. Unfortunately for us, we not only lost him for the remainder of the game, we also lose him for the first half of the Rice game, which will be an opportunity for somebody like Jamar Smith or Treyvon Hughes to step up and pick up that flag for the first half. We did not force any turnovers and as I mentioned we lost one, so we’re -1 for the year. Probably the most disappointing thing was we had a lot of missed tackles on defense. Guys that are usually surefire tacklers, again, a lot of that had to do with Oklahoma and their talent but a lot of that had to do with not pulling the trigger on certain plays, which we’ve got to get better at moving forward.

“I thought special teams was a positive. I think Luna was outstanding, he had a 44-yard average. The coverage was outstanding, he had a 38.2 net. He got three inside the 20 and it really should’ve been four, Michael Lewis stumbled on that and it would’ve been easily downed at the one. So Luna had a great day, he was the special teams player of the week and received the Top Gun Award. Punt return, we only had the one return that Terry Juniel fair caught, so nothing there. Kickoff cover, I thought the coverage was good. We had one touchback. You saw Viles’ strength of his leg on that. We did have one return that they took from inside the end zone and they only returned it 23 yards, so the coverage was good there. Kickoff return, I thought there was great communication as far as when to return and hold it back. We had two returns for 45 yards and a long of 23 with Keynan Foster. I think that tandem with him and Warren Redix will be good for the future. And we had no field goal opportunities in that game.

“Again, you look back on it, time of possession was not in our favor and the turnover battle was not in our favor. They did an outstanding job on third downs, 57 percent, where we were at 33 percent. If I had to look at one positive, most of the players in our program did get the opportunity to compete, and it gave us a chance to really evaluate a lot of the younger guys who have not been in that arena moving forward.”

(On Rice)

“They’re sitting in the same boat as us. They had a game the week before and actually had this week as a bye week. They lost to a very powerful Stanford team in Australia. This is a team that got after us towards the end of last year. The same type of situations, they didn’t do a good job against Stanford with time of possession or third downs, but this team has a lot of returning talent. Their quarterback is new, he’s a redshirt freshman. I feel they’ve upgraded there from an athletic standpoint. You’re seeing these guys run a little bit more option with him. He’s got a pretty nice deep ball and they’ve got some targets he can throw it to. This kid was an All-State quarterback in high school, he was a 3,000-yard passer. Against Stanford he was 7-of-18 for 69 yards. He was sacked two times versus Stanford.

“Both running backs are back and they are both compact guys, built about the same. #45 Sam Stewart, he had 500 yards and six touchdowns last year. Against Stanford he had 82 yards and a 4.7 average. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield, he had three catches for 41 yards. This Walter kid, he’s about the same size 5-8, 210, he had 345 yards last year and five touchdowns. He had three carries for 45 yards [against Stanford]. So they are kind of working those two in the rotation. They are very similar backs, hard charging backs, difficult to tackle.

“Much like the last team we played, Rice has all of the starters coming back in their offensive line. We felt they were a solid offensive line last year. They got after us in the trenches and probably the best one is an All-Conference player, Trey Martin, their center. He sets the front and makes all the calls, he’s very athletic and capable. Rice always seems to have a taller receiver, each year they have a guy who’s 6-4 or 6-5 who they throw some fade balls to. Collectively as a group they’ve got four receivers over 6-3, big outside receivers in particular #18, he’s a guy that had five receptions against us last year.

“Defensively, it’s kind of unique, they don’t list a lot of starters coming back but they have a lot of guys who were injured and out last year. They gained quite a few guys who played in 2015 back from injuries. They have 15 players who have starting experience on the defensive side of the ball. Their best player on defense, and probably the best player on the team who was their team MVP last year is Ellerbee, a linebacker. It seems like this guy has been there for five years now. He is an All-Conference player, he led Conference USA in tackles last year. This kid has got a motor and it showed against Stanford. He had 10 tackles, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit against Stanford to start off his season well.

“Another guy we have a lot of respect for is #44. Again, this is a team that transitions from a four-down look to a three-down look. They are showing more odd pressures this year. #44 is a guy that they can line up as a defensive end, he’s also the guy that they can line up as an outside linebacker, much like Oklahoma did last week with #31. He’s got good size, 6-2, 250, he’s got a high motor, he had three tackles, a tackle for loss and a sack versus Stanford last week. He had some good get offs on their tackles. He’s a guy we’re going to have to handle. Another guy we have a lot of respect for is their defensive lineman #90, 6-5, 250. He had 41 tackles and five sacks last year. He is a very high motor guy, he plays hard on every snap, and they gained back a hard-hitting safety, #17 Ibe. He is a physical hitter, he had five tackles in the opener against Stanford. So new scheme, new coordinator, probably from a schematic standpoint very similar to what we saw at Oklahoma, a lot of odd pressures, some four down looks as well and we’re going to have to be dialed in on that.

“Special teams, their punter is also their kicker. His name is Fox. He averaged 40.7 and against Stanford he had a long of 62 so he’s got a capable leg. He had one touchback and a bounced kick on kickoffs. He had 25 touchbacks in 2016, so he’s another strong-legged kicker that we’ll see. The punt returner, Ellerbe #25, he had one return for 12 yards on punt return. And then he had a 29 return against Stanford. So they have a capable returner. These guys always play hard on special teams. Rice is always a well-coached team. I think David Bailiff gets the most out of his players year in and year out. It’s going to be a battle. We’re going to need the fans here for our home opener. Our players are going to be excited about playing in the Sun Bowl in front of the home fans, and I hope everybody turns out to support our team.”

(On paring down the defensive rotation)

“You’ll see some guys out there more, getting more reps and you’ll some guys’ reps diminish because of performance. Usually, the jump from your first game to your second game is the most drastic when you change personnel. Again, we’ll hopefully gain back [Jayson] VanHook as well. That gives us a little more depth at the linebacker spot. I did feel good about what Treyvon Hughes and Jamar Smith did when they went in there, so it gives me a little more confidence that when we go through a first half without Alvin Jones, we can have somebody step up in there. Defensive line, some of the young guys that really took a step forward, Trace Mascorro played against an All-Conference center and really did an outstanding job. And Dedrick Simpson was really active and in on a lot of plays. Those guys really stood out. I thought our corners held up well against them. The deep ball issues that we had were more from the safety position. But our cornerbacks looked like they belonged out there.”

(On evaluating the pass rush at Oklahoma)

“We didn’t generate a lot of pressure, we only got two quarterback hits and the one sack. We probably missed another sack too. We’ve got to generate more pressure than that. Then again, you’ve got potentially five guys off that offensive line that will be playing on Sundays. So that’s the best offensive line that we will see in 2017.”

(On preparing for Rice’s defense)

“When you look at last year’s film, you just kind of evaluate personnel. Really you only have one game to go by this year, and it was a mixture of four down and three down. So we’ll prepare for that. Again, we saw a lot of that against Oklahoma. We see a lot of that from our own defense in training camp. We have had a lot of preparation versus the odd front, and we have had preparation versus the over and under fronts as well. And their personnel is good. So that’s going to be the main challenge, us matching up versus their personnel. But I really feel this game is going to be won up front on both sides of the ball, offensive and defensive lines. We’re going to challenge both of our groups in this game and they’re going to have to get the job done for us to have a chance to win.”

(On opening conference play early)

“Urgency is a good word and intensity is a good word, because anytime you get into conference play it’s for real. To have a conference game your second game, yeah it is the earliest I’ve had a conference game as a player or a coach. It gets your focus early, knowing that you could be 1-0 in conference or 0-1 in conference right after week two. It does get your attention. Rice is a team that got after us last year. We have to get after them this year to have a chance to win this game. The fact we’re playing in front of our home folks, we’re going to need their support as well. Our players love playing in front of the Miner fans. It’s going to be an exciting game.”

(On evaluating Ryan Metz’s performance at Oklahoma)

“He did a good job getting us in the right audibles when the box was outnumbered and threw some hitches and those type things. Two of those completions were taken back from penalties. Three of his completions were taken back from drops, and he still had an efficient game. I was pleased with Ryan’s play, in fact I was pleased with all three quarterbacks. What I said at the beginning of camp, I’m very comfortable with all three quarterbacks. I think we can win with all three quarterbacks. And Ryan didn’t show anything that made me think differently in that game.”

(On the offensive line’s play at Oklahoma)

“They did do an outstanding job early and even at the end of the game, there were some holes there and that’s probably where I was a little bit frustrated. There were some balls that bounced that could’ve probably stuck in there, just like they did early in the game. And that’s what happens when you’ve got young backs. They need to see this on film and see ‘I just need to stick my foot in the ground and get the yardage that I can.’ You saw Walter Dawn bounce a short yardage play, which is a no-no, and he ended up losing yards and we ended up getting a holding call on that. You just have to stick it in there in those circumstances. The one positive in short yardage, I think Kevin Dove is an outstanding short yardage back. He can get hit at the line of scrimmage and still create a pile because of his strength and moving forward, that’s probably the guy that you’ll see.”

(On the first scoring drive at Oklahoma)

“We didn’t capitalize on that. But it was an outstanding drive, it was efficient. Ryan was efficient, he completed two third downs on that. Warren Redix made a good play to keep that drive going. Walter made two outstanding runs. And Walter has the ability to do that. He’s a fiery player, he’s a tough player. When he hits the seams, and just keep in mind he has been at running back for one game and had some outstanding runs. He’ll get better and better as he sees these things on film and can correct his errors.”

(On the injury situation)

“Just a couple of banged up guys with shoulder injuries, I don’t think anything that will keep them out of this game. So I think we came out of it relatively healthy. If you’d told me before the game that we’d have these injuries, I would’ve taken it. We didn’t have any devastating injuries. The main thing is losing Alvin for the first half. The good thing is we don’t lose him for the whole game. He’ll be frothing at the mouth at halftime to come out and try to make up for lost time. Somebody is going to have to step up and pick up the slack. Jamar Smith and Treyvon Hughes are going to have to do the job inside.”

(On Jayson Van Hook’s status for Saturday)

“We’re going to ease him into the process this week and do some contact drills with him and see where he holds up. That would be an added bonus for us, because this kid can really fly. And they run a lot of option, so it would be a big benefit having an edge guy who can run like he does.”

(On the team’s mental state following the Oklahoma loss)

“I think they’re excited and ready to go. I think they were embarrassed by their play. If you go into the locker room and they’re happy after a game like that, then you’ve got major issues. They were down and they were upset with how they played, the players and coaches and everybody. I think this is a team that’s very unified. I think this is a team that you’ll see bounce back. There are going to be ups and downs throughout the year. We started out with a tough game, we didn’t match up against that team and we didn’t help ourselves with some of the production and play that we had in that game. Where we’re at right now, we’re 0-1 and playing a conference team coming to our place and our stadium. Our kids will be energized and ready to go.”

(On what Rice has gone through the last couple of weeks)

“I don’t know if it’s going to be a problem for them, they can also rally around that and use that as fuel. I would imagine that’s what they’re doing is try to rally around that. We’ve got players on our own team that have issues in Houston. We’ve got one kid, Kevin Dove, who had horses back there and lost every single horse in their horse farm. Our thoughts go out to David Bailiff and his team. I can’t imagine some of the things that they’re going through. But they are coming here to play a football game and we are here to play a football game. After the game, certainly he and I will get together and talk, because we’re good friends.”

(On his relationship with David Bailiff)

“You just talk. You go off each other’s experience. David went through the same year that we did, he had a ton of injuries. He went through the same thing. You just talk about, is there a different way that we can practice? Is there a different way that we can handle this situation? You rely on each other. Ultimately it is competitive, but there are friendships and there are guys you have respect for, and certainly David Bailiff is one of those.”


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