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Monday Lunch With Kugler

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Moving on from their third win a row, UTEP prepares for their biggest defensive task of the season in slowing down Western Kentucky's offense.

Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sp

Once again its time break down Sean Kugler's comments from his weekly media luncheon.

Kugler talks about the Southern Miss. game, what to expect against Western Kentucky, and also gives credit to the Miner faithful who showed up last Saturday.

***Kugler opened the presser by going over the defensive stats from last week.

***He was very pleased with the pressure the defense put on the quarterback, and also the plays made behind the line of scrimmage.  Another good point was the four holding calls on Southern Miss. forced by the defensive pressure.

***While going over the defensive scoring plays, Kugler joked that the pick six from Trey Brown was the slowest interception returned for a TD in football history which drew some lols.

***UTEP is now 30% percent on third down defense which sits a top the C-USA.

*** "If there is one down that counts on defense, its third down"

***Was pleased how the defense responded after Aaron Jones' early fumble, the defense had a short field behind them, but forced Southern Miss. into a three and out that carried over into the rest of the game.

***Captain of the week will be Roy Robertson-Harris.

***Kugler said the touchdown pass from Cole Weeks to Casey Martin was a mental breakdown by the secondary.

***Miners are now plus-nine in the turnover margin category.

***Negatives from the offensive side were the third and longs the offense found themselves in.

*** "Not the most efficient night for the offense"

***Talks about dropped passes, negative plays, and penalties as things the offense couldn't avoid.

***Kugler goes on to talk about the penalty difference in the game, and how they pride themselves on winning those numbers.

***UTEP ranks second in the conference in kickoff coverage per return, and says he thinks kickoff coverage is a special teams aspect that shows how tough your team is overall.

***Says Jay Mattox has to get used to the fast track turf in the Sun Bowl to get those bounces on the roll out punts he got on the soft Alamodome turf a couple of weeks ago.

***Kugler was very happy with punt return coverage as well, as they held Casey Martin in to below three yards a return, coming in Martin averaged 12.5 yards per return.

***After the blocked field goal, the coaches determined through film it was a personnel issue that will be changed during the week of practice.

***Kugler talks about the formula of ball control, no penalties, being more efficient on offense, and winning the turnover margin as keys for wins down the final stretch of the season.

***He opens up the Western Kentucky talk by laying out the travel itinerary so to speak.

***They will fly to Nashville, then bus two hours or so to Bowling Green, Kentucky on the day of the game.

***On WKU: "This will be the most explosive offensive team we have faced all year"

***WKU is second in the C-USA in points per game.

***Western Kentucky has a 235 lbs running back Leon Allen who can move around and also has 700 yards rushing, and 200 yards receiving.

***The Hilltoppers do not allow very many sacks, 14 sacks in 366 drop backs for the year, their offensive unit also has a 50 percent conversion rate on third downs.

***WKU has scored 30 or more points in their first seven games of the season.

***Like Southern Miss. WKU has some size and speed in of their receiver group, they also spread out their passing touchdown production between four different receivers and will run the ball.

***Kugler acknowledges WKU has gave up a lot yards, but points out their tackles for loss, and forced turnover numbers as positives.

***Says the WKU defense will show multiple looks and coverage, but especially along their defensive fronts.

***WKU linebacker Nick Holt is the son of defensive coordinator Nick Holt Sr.

*** "(Against) Louisiana Tech they had multiple turnovers and got beat 59-10.  It sounds very familiar.  It sounds like our trip to Louisiana Tech as well.  We turned the ball over and you saw the end result.  They had a very similar day last week."

***Goes on to say he knows the defense will be excited to go up against the tough task which is WKU's offense.

***Says overall the team is excited to go on the road this week, and about the final four games of the season.

***Kugler says the offense has to get back to the two back scheme mixed in more with the option.

***He also says Jameill Showers left a lot of yards on the field with misreads on the option.

***Called last week's game Showers' worst game of the season, but said the coaches were at fault as well with USM overloading sides in certain situations.

***Kugler credits the mental toughness the team has shown to the senior leadership that steps up when things aren't going their way in a game.

***He also said he was not disappointed in the no-shows from the crowd, but would like to see more fans to watch the way the team is playing right now.

***I asked about the defensive coaches covering up their signals with those flags, but coach said he will keep the reason in house.

Had technical difficulties with audio, here is the text of the presser old school style via UTEP Athletics.

(On Saturday's 35-14 Win Over Southern Miss)

"It was a great team win for us against a quality opponent.  Defensively we have had back-to-back outstanding performances.  We talked to the defense all week about bringing that same energy that they brought against UTSA.  In many ways they did that and one-upped it.  I really felt they did a great job getting after the quarterback and playing behind their line of scrimmage. We had four sacks, nine tackles for losses, three fumbles, two interceptions and four holding calls or there probably could've been a few more.  Defensive line and linebackers and everybody that was pressuring, even from the secondary, did a great job of hitting home or causing the quarterback to alter his throws.  Any time you can create turnovers it benefits your team, but any time you create turnovers that result in points there's probably a pretty good chance that you're going to win that game.  The defense scored two touchdowns. One was a sack fumble by Roy Robertson-Harris that Nick Gathrite picked up and ran 59 yards.  And Trey Brown returned the slowest interception in football history for a touchdown.  The defense also did a great job getting off the field on third downs.  We are 30 percent for the year which puts us at the top of Conference USA.  If there's one down that counts on defense, it's third downs.  You either stay on the field or you get off the field.  Our defense has been getting off the field better than anybody else.  Our goal going into the game was creating two turnovers.  It's the same every week.  We created five and scored on two of those and that was the outcome of the game.  We talked about starting fast.  The defense was put in a tough position because the offense turned the ball over on the first possession on the fumble by Aaron Jones on our end of the field.  And they went three and out.  They put out the fire early and it carried into the rest of the game.  The captain of the week is Roy Robertson-Harris.  He had two sacks, three tackles for losses, two forced fumbles, one that resulted in a touchdown, and one really outstanding hustle play on a stretch play that there was a missed tackle and he made a hustle play about 25 yards down the field which is very impressive for a guy his size.  So he had an outstanding game.  All in all, the defense played with great energy for all four quarters.  We did have one bust on the long touchdown pass in the third quarter due more to mental than physical issues.  But they were flying around having fun and playing with energy and feeding off of each other.

"Offensively we had a very efficient drive early in the game.  We were off to a great start until we had the fumble.  We had two first down runs back-to-back, and then we had the fumble on the third play and again the defense put out the fire.  The second drive was very efficient.  We drove the length of the field 87 yards and went down and scored.  It was Katrae Ford's first touchdown as a Miner, which I was very excited about because a lot of hard work for him paid off.  This is a guy that has been injured a lot and has been a backup and he got his first opportunity to start with Eric Tomlinson being out.  He made the most of his opportunities.  We always have a formula on offense.  We want to control the clock, which again I thought we did a good job with over 33 minutes.  And we do not want to turn the ball over.  We did have one turnover in that game, but we gained five from the defense which puts us at +9 on the year which is the thing we emphasize the most, taking care of the football and we're number one in Conference USA at this point.  What we did not do a good job of was we wanted to stay in manageable third downs.  There's a lot of things that go into that - no sacks, no negative plays, no penalties, no drops.  We were guilty of all those things throughout course of the game.  It was not the most efficient night for the offense and that was seen on the field.  Most importantly we've got to be more efficient with our rundowns.  Our goal is 4.5.  We are only at 2.5 and a lot of that I attribute to Southern Miss.  They did an excellent job scheme-wise.  They played with a lot of energy. Their front four really got after our guys pretty good.  Especially #97 had kind of a career night.  He is a special talent and you'll see him playing in the NFL.  We had four offensive penalties, something that we pride ourselves on.  As a team we only had four penalties for 20 yards where they were highly penalized with personal fouls and those type things.  We do take a lot of pride in not being the penalized team.  We are #2 in Conference USA right now in penalties per game and we want to keep it that way.

"Special teams, I was very excited to see Autrey Golden get a 98-yard kickoff return.  As soon as he popped the first level with some outstanding blocking from L.A. Dowell and Jameel Erving, he was 1-on-1 with the kicker and at that point you knew it was over.  He put one move and he was gone.  For his efforts he got Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week which is a great award for him.  The kickoff cover again was outstanding.  It has been outstanding all year.  They had one return for 16 yards.  Jay Mattox banged four of them out of the end zone.  He had four touchbacks.  Currently in Conference USA we are #2 in kickoff cover.  To me there's always one special team that reflects your team's toughness and that's your kickoff cover team.  Usually you've got a pretty good kickoff cover team and guys are flying down, that means you've got pretty good guys at the linebacker/safety position.  Guys that are willing to go down there and hit, and they have been outstanding all year.  I thought the punt team had a good night.  They had a returner #83 who had been averaging 11.5 yards per return, and we held him to 2.5 yards per return with some excellent punt coverage.  There were two outstanding plays that we showed to the team.  One was from Nick Gathrite, and the other was from Traun Roberson where immediately as soon as the guy is catching the ball he is being hit.  Mattox was 43.9 average.  He probably had a little learning experience.  UTSA had a very soft turf and it got some good bounces.  The Sun Bowl turf is a lot different, a little harsher and a little harder.  It bounces a little bit faster.  I think he'll learn the second time he comes out in the Sun Bowl how to place those balls.  But he did a good job punting.  There were a couple that were close to pinning them down deep but it just got that little extra hop and went into the end zone.  But I was not displeased with that at all.  Punt return, we fielded the ball well but we did not get much out of our return.  We need to do a better job of that.  Our goal is +10 and we haven't achieved that.  The eyesore again was PAT/field goal block.  Much like anything, when we have an issue we're not going to stand pat.  We looked at our schematics on that.  It was more of a personnel type thing and we will switch that personnel up to make the position a little stronger.  We cannot have a 10-point swing in a game that was really in our hands.  The final score should have probably been 38-7 and it ends up giving them the opportunity to get back in the game.  Fortunately after that everybody responded in the proper way and didn't allow that to become an issue.  That kind of shows the mental toughness of the team. But we can't allow those things to happen.  Again, great team effort.  The things that we emphasize the most - controlling the clock, time of possession, penalties and turnovers -- that's our formula and if we continue to do that and play with the energy that we have and get a little more efficiency out of our offense these next four weeks, I feel good about the team heading into this final stretch."

(On Western Kentucky)

"This will be a long road trip for our team. We are flying into Nashville and then we'll be busing into Bowling Green, Kentucky the day of the game.  This will be the most explosive offensive team that we have faced all year.  They are really outstanding on offense.  They average 41.1 points per game, which is second in Conference USA behind Marshall.  They average 145 yards rushing, this team does want to run the ball.  They will get in some heavy formations. They have a 235-pound tailback that is actually pretty nimble, that can make people miss as well as run them over.  He is averaging 100 yards per game. Their quarterback is averaging 377 yards passing per game.  He is a big quarterback, 6-3 210.  He will stand in there, he'll take hits.  He hasn't been hit much.  They have only had 14 sacks in 366 attempts.  That's a pretty good ratio right there.  They are first in C-USA in passing and ranked in the top-10 in the country.  They are averaging 522 yards per game which puts them the #1 offense in Conference USA and also highly ranked in the country.  They have been very good on third downs, 50 percent. Our goal as a team is 50 percent.  That puts them second in Conference USA.  And they have been good in the red zone.  Every category offensively, they have been outstanding.  They have scored over 30 points in seven of the eight games.  They have also been doing a good job taking care of the football. They are +1 in the turnover battle.  For as many times as they throw it, that's a pretty good job. The quarterback is outstanding.  He has already passed for over 3,000 yards.  He is at 67 percent passing, and he has 25 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.  That's quite a year with four games remaining on the schedule.  As I mentioned the running back #33 is 6-0 235.  He averages 4.8 per carry and 100 yards per game.  He is a load.  Much like last week, we are going to see a very big receiving corps.  #21 is 6-3 and has got five touchdowns.  #2 is 6-1 and has five touchdowns.  #13 is 6-1 and has five touchdowns.  And #10 has four touchdowns for them.  They'll spread it out.  They also have a very good size tight end that catches a lot of balls for them.  It's a very big skill position group from the running back position all the way out to the receiver position.  It's going to be an extreme challenge for us offensively.

"Defensively, they have given up some yards but they have generated some plays behind the line of scrimmage.  They have gotten some sacks.  And they have gotten turnovers.  They've forced nine fumbles and six interceptions.  They give you a lot of multiple looks.  They jump in and out of three-down fronts to four-down fronts to bear fronts which cover up all of the interior.  They mix up their man and zone pressures.  They pressure a lot.  We're going to have to be on point with that.  #10 their linebacker, he is the defensive coordinator's son.  He leads their team in tackles, 71 tackles and five for losses. They've got a defensive tackle that has been disruptive in the passing game.  He has 5.5 tackles for losses and 4.5 sacks which is good for an interior guy. They have a safety #38 who is second on the team in tackles with 47.  And they have a very talented 6-1, 190-pound corner #19.  He has 30 tackles and an interception.  He leads their team in pass breakups.  So they've got talent on that side of the ball.

"Special teams, their punter #15 has a 38-yard average.  They've got a very good field goal kicker who is 13-for-16 with a long of 42. They have an outstanding returner.  He returns punt and kicks for them, #81.  He has an 11.5 average on punt returns.  Kickoff return is 24.9, he also has a 94-yard touchdown return.  He is a very explosive returner that we're going to have to be on point with.  They do a lot of things schematically, special teams wise, probably more than any team we have seen so we're going to have to be on point with that.  Their kickoff cover, even though they have had a touchdown against them, they only give up an average of 21.9.  So take the touchdown out and they are only giving up about 16 yards per return.  They are very solid on special teams.

"This is a team that beat Bowling Green who won 10 games last year, Navy who went to a bowl game last year and Old Dominion, who won seven games last year.  All of their games minus the Louisiana Tech game last week, they have been in it right to the end and been very close in all their games. Louisiana Tech they had multiple turnovers and got beat 59-10.  It sounds very familiar.  It sounds like our trip to Louisiana Tech as well.  We turned the ball over and you saw the end result.  They had a very similar day last week.  We are getting ready to face in my mind the most explosive offensive team that we'll see all year.  But I feel good about the way our defense is playing.  I know they're going to be excited about that task.  Offensively we are going to do some things to get more balanced, not only in the passing game but also in the run game. I know the coaches are hard at work on that plan.  And special teams, we've got to prepare for multiple things in this upcoming game.  It's going to be a challenge going on the road but our players are excited about the way they're playing, they're excited about coming together as a team.  We're excited about this four-game stretch coming up against four quality opponents that all had winning seasons last year.  So it's going to be exciting for our team."

(What can you do offensively to spark the team?)

"We need to get back to doing more two-back stuff, having some hammer plays in addition to some of the zone read stuff that Jameill does.  Jameill will be the first to probably tell you that he had his worst game this year, probably more to our fault.  We probably had him overloaded on some of the stuff that we had him doing and he missed some reads in the zone read stuff.  He probably left a lot of yards on the field by doing that.  I don't worry about Jameill because he's such a competitor.  He's such a hard worker.  I know he will bounce back from that game.  He also did some very good things in that game too, so I don't want to discount that."

(On the team's mental toughness)

"Really they have displayed it all year. You go back to the New Mexico game.  We were ahead handily and they came back and got right into the game. That could've went either way and they bounced back.  They were resilient then.  You saw the biggest show of their mental toughness after getting their tails whipped at Louisiana Tech.  That can send a team in a lot of different directions.  This team came together and used that and really to me, that was the turning point of our season.  The team came together, rather than fractured and split and fall into expectations that they weren't going to get it done.  The Old Dominion game, they got back at the end of the game.  The game could've gone in either direction tied at 28.  The team was resilient and the blocked field goal in this game, when everything is going your way and you're about to go up 24-7 midway through the third and they block one and all of a sudden they're right back in the game.  It's a 10-point swing.  A lot of teams at that point, especially that haven't had a lot of success in the past, tend to question or start to fold.  I didn't see any of that.  In fact, I saw the energy from that point and everybody kind of stick together and rise.  I think the mental toughness of this team is a reflection of the senior leadership.  I think these guys have responded to every challenge we've thrown at them as a coaching staff.  I'm very proud of the seniors on this team.  They really do want to be the team that stops the bleeding and have a winning season."

(On the attendance at Saturday's game)

"I always talk to the team about how there are things you can and can't control.  You can't control the weather, you can't control the referees, you can't control the crowd whether it's at home or away.  But I will say this.  I think our fans are awesome. Even though we didn't have the biggest crowd, they were extremely into the game.  They were very loud.  They caused a lot of disruption for Southern Miss when they were on offense, which is exactly what you want.  I know we've got hardcore fans that love the UTEP team, and our players respond to that.  Would I have liked to have seen more people in the stands because of the way that our team is playing?  I would.  I'd like to see people come out and see a team that's really fighting hard and proud to show El Paso what type of team they have. So was I disappointed?  No.  I'd just like to see more fans out there.  I think our players would, and I think it would really energize them.  But the people at the game were awesome."

(On going against one of the nation's worst defenses statistically)

"We've got to worry about what we do.  Any time we have a game where we sputter, whether it's offense or defense, our main job is to solve problems and fix what we need to fix.  Schematically, sure you look at their personnel and you try to decide what works best against them and those type things. But I don't really worry about the other team. I worry about our team and our players and getting them prepared and making sure they're in a position to be successful.  I know the coaches are putting together a good plan, I know they're focused and energized and that goes for the whole team.  I oversee all of that."