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UTEP coach Sean Kugler talks about Kansas State loss, upcoming game against Louisiana Tech

UTEP coach Sean Kugler talked to El Paso media Monday about this past weekend’s loss to Kansas State and this upcoming weekend’s game against Louisiana Tech. Read his quotes below.

On Saturday’s loss at Kansas State)
“It was a tough game for us on many counts. But my hat goes off to Kansas State. They are an excellent football team in all three phases and got after us in all three phases. It was one of the better run defenses I have seen in a long time at any level. They are a very disciplined, excellent tackling team, especially their safeties. They really caused a lot of problems for us.

“Positives from the game … I thought we got good production from Jameill [Showers]. He took care of the ball. It was good to see Ian Hamilton get involved in the passing game. We’re going to need that from him for the entire year. He did a good job going up at the highest point and catching the ball, something we always talk to him about and challenge him [to do]. It was good to see Eric Tomlinson finally start to move around healthy because he can be a productive receiver for us. The other thing was zero turnovers on the road, which puts us at +6 on the year. I told the team that if we’re sitting in the plus category at the end of the year, we’re probably looking at a pretty good season. The offense started out slowly in that game. We had six three and outs. Most of that had to be attributed to Kansas State playing excellent defense. We didn’t get the run game established early. But I like the way our kids fought back in the second half. They didn’t fold their tents. There wasn’t a look of desperation and a negative way in their eyes. These kids wanted to compete and they fought back in the second half and played with energy. It doesn’t mean anything in the final scheme of it, the score. We got our tails whipped. But it does mean something to me as a head coach that those kids didn’t pack it in and fought back, really until the final whistle. I was proud of them for that against a very quality opponent.

“Some negatives in the game … we didn’t handle their safeties well in the run game as far as taking angles and rooting those guys out. Those guys did come downhill and made some excellent tackles. There were actually some plays that were well blocked up front and there were minimal gains because of their safeties filling and making plays. We’ve got to do a better job of handling those guys in the future. There wasn’t a lot of yards after contact, something that we pride ourselves on as a running back crew. We only had 29 yards after contact. A lot of that is attributed to Kansas State and their effectiveness tackling at the linebacker and safety position. Two yards per rush is not how we are going to generate offense. We did have some chunks in the passing game off the play action pass, but it really wasn’t due to our effectiveness in the run game. It was probably due more to our effectiveness running the ball prior to that game. They bit on some play actions and we had an opportunity to complete some of those down the field. We came out slow offensively. Six three and outs will get you behind the chains against anybody. My hat goes off to them. We can’t come out that slow on offense and expect to beat anybody.

“We always talk about staying ahead of the chains. We were behind the chains in the first half. We had two drops. Because of our ineffectiveness in the run game we were not in manageable third downs. Uncharacteristically we had four penalties on offense. We had a holding call that negated a 40-yard reception, we had two false starts, and we had an illegal formation when the receiver wasn’t under the ball. Those are things that put you behind the chains and won’t allow you to finish drives. We gave up our first sack as an offensive line to an excellent defensive front. One of young guards got beat cleanly. It was really probably the first time those guys faced adversity. I was proud of the way they came back and fought in the second half. I have been in those situations as a player and as a coach. It’s very easy to get rattled and succumb to it and they did not do that. I view that as a positive moving forward.

“I did think the defense started our fast. The tackling was clean. They were playing with energy. They only gave up four of what we could call explosive plays in the first half. They were playing quality football. They just got worn down. Anytime you have six three and outs, that is tough on a defense at any level and they kind of got gassed towards the end of the second quarter. We’ve got to do a better job offensively of maintaining drives. That’s what the whole structure of our team is built on is maintaining possession, maintaining drives and having lengthy drives. We did that some in the second half but it was a little too late.

“The defense did a good job when we did get them into third downs getting off the field. They were 2-of-8 on third down. We are 33 percent for the year. At that rate we will be in pretty good shape [for the year]. I thought the secondary tackling was cleaner than it had been in the previous couple of games, something that we challenged the guys on. I thought Devin Cockrell had one of his better tackling games. But those guys were on the field too much. A lot of that had to do with our ineffectiveness running the ball and a lot of that had to do with Kansas State playing great defense. We can’t be on the field that much as a defense.

“Negatives … there were eight second half explosive plays and #24 really hurt us in the wildcat, more due to his effectiveness as a running back and not so much scheme. We did lose our eyes, something we challenged our guys about going into the game. We knew they had a great play action pop pass to the tight end. It’s very easy to lose your eyes because of the run action behind it. They got us on it a couple of times and we have to be better than that with our eyes. We have to get better production than two tackles for loss and zero sacks. A lot of that had to do with how well they played. They outperformed us in all three phases and we’ve got to get better.

“Special teams, it was not a good day. There were some positives. We did block a punt with Katrae Ford. We did feel that we could get one going in. We felt we could attack their shield and those guys did an excellent job on that. We had one forced turnover and much like what happened to our punter, you get one blocked and the very next punt he puts the ball on the ground because he got a little shaken up by what just happened to him. We ended up getting a turnover forced by Wesley Miller then L.A. Dowell recovered it and had a chance to run it in for a touchdown. I felt the kickoff coverage unit was solid. They had one of the best returners in the country and we held them to an 11.7 yard average. The negatives had been one of our strengths, kickoff return. Autrey had some misjudged balls. A lot of that we’ve got to clean up by just getting him in the right position. They did some sky kicks and he misjudged a couple of them. But I don’t lose any confidence in Autrey Golden. He’s going to bounce right back and he’s a competitor. He did have one excellent return for 34 yards against a team that had given up 14 yards on kickoff coverage. They are probably one of the best kickoff coverage units I have seen. They were extremely physical.

“Where we really struggled, and it was obvious in the game, was our punt coverage. We had two blocks and one of those was negated because of an inadvertent whistle. But we had two blocks against us. It really wasn’t anything schematically. We just had a bust up front that turned a guy loose. When you turn a guy loose on punt, an unaccounted for guy, it screws up your numbers on the back end as far as the shield. We picked up the three most dangerous but the fourth guy came clean twice and they blocked the punt. On the flip side of that, much like what happened to their punter, we wanted to do some directional punting after that and basically kicked it out of bounds. We didn’t get that done. We kicked two right to #16, and we feel he’s the best punt returner in the country and he showed it against us. We’ve got to be better than that. We’ll make some personnel adjustments on our punt team. We’re just going to work the heck out of it. But I haven’t lost any confidence in our special teams. They have been outstanding all year. Any team is going to face adversity at different times. I know those guys are going to roll up their sleeves and go to work and try to rectify the problems that we have.

“At this juncture we’re 2-2. We just finished our non-conference slate. We beat two of our biggest rivals. We played two Big 12 teams that are both quality opponents. One you could argue we had a chance to win the [Texas Tech] game but we didn’t, and the other [Kansas State] we were outmatched and got it handed to us. My feelings about our team after the game are no different than my feelings about our team going into the game. I have been very proud and pleased with their effort. We came out of our non-conference slate fairly healthy. We’ve got a few bumps and bruises here and there. But heading into conference play after four physical games, we would take where we are health-wise. Now our main focus is going to be on Conference USA play starting this week with Louisiana Tech.

“Our captain of the week for the past game performance is Ian Hamilton. It was a good, productive game for him and it was nice to see him get going and make some explosive plays down the field. He is one of our leaders by example and work ethic. Our Top Gun, which is given to our best special teams player based on a points system, was Wesley Miller. He has been a solid producer for us on defense and special teams the entire year.”

(On Louisiana Tech)
“Offensively they are a 10 personnel team which means they play with four wide receivers and one running back. Their running back, Dixon, is one of the best in the country. He had an explosive game against us last year. He already has a 99-yard touchdown run this year. He is a complete back. You’ll see this guy play in the NFL in the future. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can pass protect, he’s physical, he doesn’t go down with one tackle, he breaks tackles and gets yards after contact. He is a physical, physical presence. He will be a challenge for us to stop in the running game.

“Their quarterback is playing extremely well for them. He is a transfer from Iowa. He has a good arm. He has an outstanding receiver corps that is very experienced that he throws to. Their entire receiving corps has been productive but the thing that stands out is explosive plays. They have been very explosive offensively. They have had a 78-yard touchdown in the passing game, a 55-yard touchdown and a 99-yard touchdown run. They have two returning starters on the offensive line, the left guard and the right tackle. The quarterback does a nice job of getting the ball out of his hands quick. They do a lot of three step drops. The receivers make plays and they make a lot of yards after contact. It is a very dangerous receiving corps and we’re going to have to be on point.

“As a team it goes kind of unnoticed, but four of the five teams they have played were bowl teams last year. They lost to Oklahoma, they beat a team that won 10 games last year Louisiana Lafayette at their place, and they beat North Texas who won a bowl game last year at their place. They won both of those games decisively. They had a game at home where they lost to Northwestern Louisiana. They had several turnovers in the game and it probably should’ve easily went their way. And they played an outstanding Auburn team on the road last week. They’re probably sitting at about the same place we are. Looking at their roster health-wise, they are probably at about the same place we are. I think the team that forces the most turnovers in this game and makes the least mistakes will have the best opportunity to win.

“They have a new defensive coordinator that came from the University of Texas. They give you multiple looks on defense. They’ll play some four and three down structure looks in their sub and dime packages. They have done an excellent job of playing behind the offense’s line of scrimmage. They have 25 tackles for losses and seven sacks. They have been getting great production from their defensive line. They have a defensive end who transferred from Illinois who was an All-Big Ten selection last year. He has six quarterback hits this year. They’ve got a 320-pound defensive tackle that has been very productive who has three tackles for losses and a sack, #9. They have a very experienced secondary. Woods #7 has 25 tackles and two interceptions already this year. Their other safety #23 is their leading tackler. They’re getting great production from their secondary. Their most productive linebacker has been #42, a very big linebacker. He has got multiple production with 28 tackles, 2.5 tackles for losses, one sack, a forced fumble, two quarterback hits and two pass break-ups. That is good production for a linebacker when you are talking about five games. Their corner #13 is an excellent cover corner. He has 30 career pass break-ups. It is a very experienced secondary. They have a productive linebacker and a defensive line that is creating plays for them. They have played some quality offensive opponents when you talk about Auburn, Oklahoma and Louisiana Lafayette.

“On special teams their punter is averaging 40.2. Their kicker is 6-for-8 with a long of 44 so they’re solid in the kicking game. Their kick returner, a redshirt freshman, has 24 yards per return so that’s a very solid average. Their punt returner is also a returning starter. They are a very sound team in all three phases. They are very solid on offense, very multiple and attacking on defense and sound on special teams. We’re going to have to be at our best to beat these guys at their place. Our sole focus from this moment forward is on Conference USA.”

(On the running game at Kansas State)
“We didn’t get anything going really in the run game. We would’ve liked to have gotten more carries for Aaron [Jones] and Nathan [Jeffery]. But when you’re sitting at third and nine and third and 10, your options for running the ball just got taken away by one. If you’re sitting at third and two or third and one, those are going to be carries for both of those guys. At the end of the day we want to have 40+ carries and we weren’t in that type of game, a lot by our own undoing and a lot by Kansas State’s effectiveness.”

(On the Miners gaining some confidence with the passing game based on their second half performance at Kansas State)
“I think it was after the Texas Tech game, a lot of people were questioning Jameill. I am the last person in the world that questionsJameill Showers. I have all the confidence in the world. I think Jameill can make every throw. It has to do with production and making plays when those throws are made. I thought the receivers did a nice job in the second half. I think there were some jitters in the first half and you saw a couple of drops. But in the second half I saw those guys going out and competing and making plays. I think that just buys Jameill more confidence in throwing the ball down field and distributing it to his receivers. Tyler Batson and Malcolm Trailhad their first catches of the year. All that does is build confidence for everybody. Moving forward, I think that was good for Jameill to get off on a good foot in the second half. Any time you can have no turnovers and four touchdowns, that’s always good confidence for your quarterback.”

(Will Trey Brown be back this week?)
“Yeah, we’re hoping so.”

Source: UTEP Athletics

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