UTEP football coach Sean Kugler met with the media on Monday and talked about this past Saturday’s win over Incarnate Word, this week’s homecoming game against UTSA, and several other topics. Read the transcript in full below.
(On Saturday’s win over Incarnate Word)
“It wasn’t our best performance, in particular the first half. But again, I felt the team responded well in the second half both offensively and defensively and did what they had to do to get a win. We’re 2-2, which was our goal at this point. We’re undefeated at home. We’re excited about having the opportunity to play UTSA for our Homecoming game coming up.
“Offensively for this game, we talked about having no pre or post-snap penalties. This is a trend that needs to drastically improve. We had two holding calls. We had an intentional grounding due to an assignment error in protection and two substitution infractions, which can’t happen. One was based on a player and we had a gaffe at the end of the half where we had too many guys on the field. When you’re dealing with a young quarterback, you’re going to go through some growing pains with that. But it’s something we need to clean up quickly.
“We talked about winning on the perimeter and catching all the catchables. I thought the receivers did a nice job in this game. We had zero drops for the second time this year. I think these guys have been consistently catching the ball. In 28 pass attempts, that’s a good job. I don’t think we did as good of a job blocking on the perimeter as we have in the past, and that’s something we need to improve upon.
“We talked about handling a different front. We mentioned all week, I really thought this team had a good defense. I mentioned after the game this defense was on par with many of the teams in our own conference. I still believe that. They had seven tackles for losses, another trend that we have to do a better job of. We talked about running back by committee and team. We did not do a good job rushing the ball. We really did get in disarray in the first half. We lostDarrin Laufasaon the first carry of the game. I don’t know the status of his injury at this point. I’m hoping that we’ll have him available, but we don’t know so don’t ask. It put us in a bind. He was our starting fullback. We already know our depth issues at tailback. There were quite a bit of adjustments that had to go on at halftime. I thought the coaches did the necessary job making those adjustments and we moved the ball more efficiently in the second half.
“We talked about handling #8, who in my mind is an NFL-type player and I still think that. He had 2.5 tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and nine tackles. So we did not perform that task up to our abilities. We talked before the game, we toldRyan Metzto beRyan Metz. Go out there and be energized and be a leader. He came through again in the clutch. He was 71 percent, 20-of-28 passing, 275 yards and two touchdowns. He took no sacks. And he didn’t turn the ball over, which we had no turnovers on offense, something I was very pleased with.
“Time of possession was in our favor. I don’t think we did a good job on third downs, in particular getting stuffed on short yardage, again, due to an assignment error. We had a couple of makeable third downs that we didn’t cash in on. We need to improve in that area. We were only at 33 percent. When we get in the red zone, we’ve been good all season. We were 100 percent the week before but we were only 1-for-2 in red zone scoring. Field goals on the offensive side are a loss.
“Defensively, we talked about stuffing the run. A lot of their rushing yards came on the one long quarterback scramble, which can’t happen. We had him bottled up. I thought that guy was a very nifty quarterback, a guy that can make plays with his legs and he busted a long one. Fortunately for us, it was a great hustle play by Kalon Beverly, getting that guy to lunge, forcing him out of bounds and before he lunged he lost the handle on the football. But they did have a 4.1-yard average, which is too much. We talked about shutting down the big tight end. He did have some catches early in the game, and I think from that point that linebackers and safeties did a good job. He had been their leading receiver. He ended up with two catches for 28 yards, and 20 of them came on one play early in the game.
“We talked about having hard man focus on the receivers. Again, we got beat by #22 twice, one for a 90-yard touchdown in a second and long situation where we should have that thing bottled up. A concerning number is teams have been averaging 19 yards a catch, and that’s too many explosive plays on us up to this point. We talked about getting off the field on third downs. We got off the field at a success rate of 37.5 percent, which is decent. We’ve got to be better than that. We were better in the second half than we were in the first.
“They did have some explosive plays – 62 yards, 34-yard touchdown, 23-yard screen on third and long. When we get people in third and longs and have worked hard on two downs to put them in third and longs, we’ve got to cash out on that. We talked about creating our own energy and feeding off the crowd. I thought the crowd was outstanding. Even though it was small in numbers, they were very loud, they were very vocal, they did cause some disruption in the second half. I didn’t feel like the energy of the crowd really got up until the second half because we didn’t do anything in the first half to get them energized. I really feel the crowd feeds off the players. In the second half we started generating some sacks. We had four sacks. You watch the film, there probably could’ve been about eight if we just wrap up and tackle and run through our tackles, and we did create some tackles for losses. That creates energy from the crowd. Overall on defense, there was some disruption. We had nine QB hits. On some of those, the guy was Houdini. He got out of those and made some plays, extended with his legs. We gave up too many explosive plays — seven. One thing I was pleased with was the defense was very good in transition. The offense again was stopped on a fourth and one and the defense held their own on that particular series. And then at the start of the second half, they hit us with an onside kick. The defense, again on a short field, came through with a blocked field goal. They did a good job in transition. I think tackling in space was improved in this game. But again, too many opportunities for that quarterback to get out of the pocket and make big plays.
“Special teams, I think [Alan] Luna got back on track. He was a 45.4 average. He did have one bad kick. But he had several outstanding kicks and they were coming after him. He did a good job under pressure in that game. Punt return, we didn’t have any returns but we need to do a better job of making good decisions in the punt return. I know we lost some yards from decision making by Jaquan [White] in the New Mexico State game and he made an error fielding the punt inside the 10, which is a no-no at any level. He’ll be better at that this week. Kickoff cover, for the third week in a row they’re doing an outstanding job. They had two tackles inside the 20. We had an opportunity to get one inside the five when the guy was trying to make a play and taking it out late. If we can keep pinning them inside the 20, we’ll be in good shape on kickoff cover. Kickoff return, we only had one return for 21 yards. We were one missed block away from getting extended yardage on that. Near misses don’t count. We’ve got to be perfect and get hats on hats and allow Autrey [Golden] to do his thing. PAT/field goal block, for the second week in a row we got one. Last week wasNick Usher, this week wasNik Needham. It was a big play for us. Their kicker had been kicking it low, we got good penetration and Needham came off the edge and blocked that. And then PAT/ field goals, we callJay Mattox‘autoMattox.’ He has been 100 percent on PAT/field goals. He is doing a great job on kickoffs. He will be captain of the week. He will also represent our team this week carrying out the pick axe, which is a Miner tradition. He deserves that.
“I felt Incarnate Word was a good team. I felt that all week. I was nervous about this game because of the quality of their defense. I mentioned after the game, we’re an extremely banged up team. We’ve just got to keep fighting. They’re not going to cancel the season because we’re banged up. We’ve got to keep fighting, keep getting after it, keep trying to improve on fundamentals and keep trying to work on our weaknesses, because we have several at this time. That’s up to the coaching staff, the players and the want-to of everybody.”
“In my mind they have the hardest schedule in the country. They are sitting at 0-4 right now but I think they are a very good football team. They started off with four bowl teams from 2014. They played at then-#22 ranked Arizona, played them extremely tough and lost 42-32. They played Kansas State. That was a tight game all the way to the third quarter. It was also a ranked bowl team. They played #25 Oklahoma State, who will probably be much higher after they beat Texas. It kind of got away from them in that game. And they played another bowl team, Colorado State, and had a chance to beat them last week. They lost 33-31. They have been very competitive, they have played an extremely hard schedule and they’re coming to our place this year.
“Overall as a team, they have been about even in time of possession. They have been penalized more than they were last year. They are averaging nine per game. It’s kind of a reflection of a younger team. They graduated some guys from last year. Where their biggest struggle has been is turnovers, much like ours was up until this past week. Going into last week, we were -6. Overall they are -8. They have had six fumbles and four interceptions and they’ve gained two fumbles on defense. That’s probably the telling story for them with where their record is and where they’re at.
“Offensively they’re a multiple offense, they’re doing a little bit more up-tempo type things this year. They are averaging 20 points per game. They are running the ball extremely well. #2 is an outstanding running back. As a team they are averaging 171 yards and 4.3 per carry, six touchdowns. They are very balanced – 211 yards passing, 11.6 per catch, four touchdowns. They are averaging close to 400 yards a game. They have given up nine sacks. I mentioned the turnovers. Third downs, they are at 37 percent, probably an area they’re trying to improve upon. It’s an area we need to keep them at. And red zone touchdowns, they are 53 percent. Again, probably an area they’re trying to improve upon.
“They have only two returning starters on the offensive line. Last year they were the most veteran team in college football. They are doing a nice job coaching up these young guys. I don’t see a lot of dropoff, if any I think they are a better team from what they were last year. Their quarterback #4 did not play against us last year. He is very athletic, runs their offense very well. They play some other quarterbacks in there but this guy has 699 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. He can also run. He has a long of 42 with a touchdown. He is another guy that can make plays with his legs.
“I think they have an NFL-type player in their tight end Morgan. He is 6-4, 260. This guy is physical. He has great hands and can run. He reminds me of our own guy Plinke. He has 17 receptions, 222 yards, 13.1 per catch which is excellent for a tight end, and two touchdowns. He is kind of their go-to-guy in the passing game which gives them a threat. The running back is outstanding. We felt that last year. He is averaging 6.1 yards a carry. He is a powerfully built guy, physical player averaging 92 yards per game. He’s got three touchdowns and he can scoot. He has a long of 85. They’ve got four excellent receivers. #88 Grubbs is their leading receiver right now. But #7 and #83 also have touchdowns. As I mentioned, the two returning starters, the right guard has 18 starts under his belt. And the right tackle has 11 starts under his belt. The right tackle is very athletic in my mind.
“Defensively, they hang their hat on playing good defense. They are a nickel 4-2-5 defense. They have always been stout up front. This year they have played some quality opponents, they are giving up 43 points a game, 182 yards rushing, 4.4 a clip, 262 passing. They have given up some yards but they have played some of the best offenses in the country when you talk about Arizona and Oklahoma State. They have gotten seven sacks on defense. They probably want to get more turnovers than what they have been getting. They have only gotten the two fumbles. Getting off the field, they have a 49 percent success rate on third down. They are 60 percent in red zone touchdowns. Those are probably areas just like us that they’re trying to improve upon.
“Special teams, they’ve got a lot of young guys but guys with a lot of talent. Their punter is a redshirt freshman. He is averaging 39.8 a punt. Their punt returner is a 185-pound high school freshman. They have blocked a punt this year. They always do a nice job on special teams. They are very well coached throughout. Their kicker is a sophomore. They have had some kick returns on them. Last year their kicker banged it out of the end zone almost every single time. We hopefully will get some kick opportunities against these guys. Their kickoff returner is a high school freshman, averaging 19.7 with a long of 34. Their field goal kicker is 4-of-7, he has had one blocked, long of 51 so he does have the leg. Special teams wise, they do have some youth but they have some talent. I have a lot of respect for coach Coker. I think he is an excellent coach. I always think UTSA is a well-coached football team, great with fundamentals. We expect a battle at Homecoming. I’m hoping all of the Miner fans come out and support our team. They get energized by the fans and we think our fans are great.”
(Do you consider a position switch for Kavika Johnson to running back?)
“Kavika probably will get more reps at running back. We have utilized him there some. We did some in the past game, especially after the injury toDarrin Laufasa. That’s something we’ll look at. But again,Jeremiah Laufasawill get most of the load. We still have LA Dowell. We’re going to getTreyvon Hughesgoing a little bit. He is a young player that needs to get in his groove. He’ll get some opportunities this week. And we’ll have to generate some running yards, trying to get the ball in other peoples’ hands. It’s got to be a running back by committee type thing. I am hoping we’ll getDarrin Laufasaback. But I can’t tell you that right now. I don’t know.”
(On the missed assignments)
“I wouldn’t pin that all on the offensive line. I had mentioned the protection was an assignment area, that was actually the fullback. Some of those tackles for losses were based on perimeter blocking, which sometimes involves the receivers and tight ends. The one that stuck my crawl was the fourth and one. That was an interior mental assignment. Again, our offensive line plays extremely well. I thinkSpencer Leftwichis an outstanding coach. They gave up no sacks in 28 attempts. They have given up two sacks in four games. They have run the ball efficiently throughout most of the year. They just had a tough night. When your run game plan goes awry quickly, and you’re shuffling guys that didn’t practice into those plays, it makes it a little bit more difficult. The running game is a combination of the O-line and the running backs. I just didn’t think we ran the ball efficiently, but I’m certainly not going to pin that all on the offensive line because there’s a lot that goes into that. In crunch time, I thought for the second week in a row they were flawless at protection. Going against #8, I thought our tackles in protection handled him very well. I’m not displeased with them whatsoever, we just need to get better.”
“Sky did have a good game and he’ll get more reps and potentially even start in this next game. I mentioned it last week, the guy that is playing the best, the guy that is working the hardest in practice, the guy that’s showing up on film, that’s going to be the guy who’s out there playing. We’d be crazy not to get our best 11 out there. When you go through injuries, sometimes you’ve got to put guys in positions to see if they can play. Sky did a great job. He did generate some pressure. Even on stunts where didn’t get the sack, he forced a sack. I was very pleased with his progress. He’ll probably get the start this week and I’m looking forward to him getting better and several players improving their performances.”
(Do you expect to throw the ball more like you did in the last quarter Saturday?)
“I think we have to. We are really depleted at the running back position. If you add Darrin to the mix, you’re talking about your number one, number two and number three running backs aren’t there. Your starting quarterback at the start of the season isn’t there. Our receivers are making plays. I think Metz is doing a great job within the offense, making plays, making the right reads and throwing accurate balls for the most part. We have become more balanced over the last two weeks and we’ll probably have to continue that throughout the season. Again, are we going to become a four wide receiver spread offense? No. We do have to mix in the run and the play action pass. Probably out of necessity, you’ll see more balance and maybe even at times leaning towards the passing game. As the head coach, I don’t care. I don’t care if we go out and run the wishbone if it gives us our best opportunity to win games. That’s what we’re in the business of doing is winning games.”
(On how UTSA’s offense has changed)
“They are a little bit more up-tempo offensively. Last year I felt UTSA, probably two games into the season, was probably the best team in our conference. Then they lost their quarterback. And then the backup quarterback got hurt. It really put them in a tailspin. They played outstanding defense, they can run the ball, they can do everything. Now this year, they got healthy quarterback play and you’re seeing the exact same thing. They are playing great fundamentals. I think they are well coached. I think they are a hard-nosed program. I think they’re physical. I don’t see a drop-off in play whatsoever. The young guys they’ve got coming up, some of those guys have a little bit more talent than some of the older guys that they graduated. But those guys had more experience. They are probably in the same boat that we are right now. They haven’t gone through the injuries that we have. But they are a younger team. You see their depth chart has changed quite a bit. That probably means that they’re tinkering around with certain guys, trying to get the right mix out there as we are.”
Source: UTEP Athletics