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Monday Lunch With Kugler

Kugler talks about a much needed win and the big road challenge this week.

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Sean Kugler opened his media luncheon with thoughts on the win against FAU.

"It was a good win for our players, a much needed win. I think the coaches did a nice job utilizing the bye week to the best of their abilities, attacking the things that we didn't do well in the first half of the season, maintaining a positive attitude with the players and reiterating it to them that this was a new start of the season."

"I think the players took that to heart, they worked extremely hard during the bye week and it showed in the game."

He goes on to talk about the goals UTEP accomplished against FAU.

"Going into this game we talked about getting more chunk plays. We had four runs over 10 yards and five passes over 20 yards, which is certainly more than we had at any point of the season. We pushed the ball down the field more."

"I thought Mack Leftwich was extremely accurate in this game. The main thing we talked about was protecting the football, no turnovers. In 39 pass attempts Mack had no interceptions."

"We talked about the third down efficiency. We were 9-of-18, 50 percent. That's our goal, anytime you're at 50 percent you're being successful. We did score 1-of-2 red zone touchdowns, so we did show some improvement in that area."

"The running backs were very good, running hard and running physical and not turning the ball over. We had no turnovers in the game offensively."

"We talked about stealing two possessions with ball control, which we feel is our best formula to win. We made a goal of 35 minutes [possession time] and we accomplished that goal."

"We had a 16-play drive in the fourth quarter that ate up a lot of clock and resulted in the game-winning field goal by [Jay] Mattox. We talked about staying ahead of the chains and putting ourselves in manageable third downs. For the most part, I felt we did that."

"We cut our tackles for losses in half from our average the first half of the season. One thing we didn't hold true to, we talked about no penalties. We did have have two."

"We talked about giving up no sacks. We did give up one but I applaud the offensive line. They have done a great job. They are number one in Conference USA in sacks allowed and certainly we have been throwing it more than we have in the past. They have done a nice job with protection."

Dropped passes were something that could have changed the score, and in the stat column

"We talked about no drops. This was probably the main thing that stood out to me in this game as a negative. Mack had an outstanding game. But he had five drops that weren't just drops, these were drops for big yardage. We left a lot of yards and points on the field with dropped balls in this game."

Kugler talks about the offensive line, and a couple of injuries there.

"I thought the offensive line played extremely well, in particular Will Hernandez who probably had his best game of the year, and Derron Gatewood really played outstanding at the right guard position. It was his first start, he went against their best defensive player who led their team in sacks and tackles for losses and he pitched a shutout on him."

"Unfortunately for Derron, he suffered the same injury as Aaron Jones and Chris Misaalefua. He had a dislocated ankle that is going to require surgery."

"Derron will be out for the year which makes 11 players out for the year for us, which is a little disheartening because not only was he our starting right guard, he was also our backup center. So it hurts you at two positions. But Derron did an outstanding job in this game."

Not only were the forced turnovers big for the defense, they came in big situations.

"Defensively, we talked about stealing two possessions on defense in the form of turnovers. Not only did we get two turnovers, but they came at very good times down in the red zone which has really been our struggle on defense this year, teams scoring touchdowns in the red zone."

"Florida Atlantic was 1-for-5, at 20 percent which is outstanding. We got a big-time fumble recovery by Dashone Smith after a huge hit by Alvin Jones."

"We got a big-time interception, the first of his career, by Nik Needham. So two huge plays down in the red zone that stopped drives for them that gave us an opportunity on offense."

Kugler also felt the communication in the secondary was the best it's been all season.

"We talked about better communication and no secrets. I really felt the communication and assignment errors were cut tenfold."

"I think a big reason for that was Kelvin Fisher being on the back end. He's a great communicator, he kind of has a calming presence for some of those young guys playing back there, and it showed up because a guy like Michael Lewis had his most productive day as a safety."

"Dashone Smith had a very productive day as a safety. And I think a lot of that has to do with communication of having Kelvin back in the fold healthy. That was good for us to see."

He then goes on to talk about Southern Miss. with great respect and concern.

"Southern Miss, in my opinion, very well could be best team in Conference USA. They are playing like it in all three phases. They are running the ball extremely well. They are passing the ball extremely well. They are averaging 505 yards a game, which is second in Conference USA behind Western Kentucky, which we all know how explosive their offense."

"Every other category statistically offensively, they are in the top three. They have only given up 13 sacks in 318 pass attempts. They are protecting the quarterback much better than a year ago at this time."

"They have a veteran group offensively. They've got five senior starters. They have three senior offensive linemen and that's usually a formula for success."

"The quarterback is playing great. They have two excellent running backs. Both their running backs are good receivers out of the backfield. "

"I feel this will probably be the best core of receivers that we will face and they're all explosive. These guys are explosive players who can make big plays."

"Defensively, this is where they have really improved. Last year they were middle to lower end of the pack as far as defense in Conference USA."

"Statistically, they are number one or number two in most every category. They have been pressuring more this year, blitzing more, playing more man coverage and first downs they are holding opponents to 31 percent. That's outstanding."

"They are also good in the red zone. They are fourth in Conference USA in red zone touchdowns."

"They have 21 sacks on the year. They are number one in Conference USA in pressuring the quarterback with man coverage. These guys have drastically improved on defense. Up front it starts with #94 Bradley. He is disruptive."

"They have a big safety #12, he is their leading tackler. The guy has been making plays. He is up near the box and he's a great box player."

"They have gotten great cornerback play this year. They've got corners playing man coverage, making plays and interceptions."

"They've got linebackers that are making tackles. And they've got disruptive guys up front making sacks. That's why they're leading Conference USA in sacks and they're second in defense."

He then gives a couple of keys UTEP is looking for on Saturday

"What we're going to face is an explosive, high scoring offense, an attacking defense that pressures the quarterback, and very sound special teams."

"They are 5-3 and if you look at their three losses, it's to Mississippi State who they played extremely well, Nebraska who they played extremely well, and Marshall."

"This is a very good football team. They start fast and they come out of halftime fast."

"We may have to utilize our sideline count. They have been getting great crowds there. They have been very vocal and you see it on film, causing some disruption for the offenses."

"But the one thing we've got to capitalize on, they have given up turnovers this year. They are -4 in the category and we're sitting at -6. So we've got to take advantage of that if we can."

"They have been a highly penalized team. We've got to be a disciplined team going into this game, especially playing on the road."

"We know we have a difficult chore ahead of us. Judging off the energy of the kids yesterday, they're energized, they're excited about their win. We're just going to take it one game at a time heading into this last half-portion of the season and try to finish the season feeling good about our team, feeling good about the seniors, and trying to accomplish as much as we can."
"A big question is how will UTEP go about defending the Southern Miss. offense."

"We've got to mix it up. Our team will man pressure but we've got to do a good job when we do play zone coverage of showing man, or if we are going to play man coverage of showing zone."

"We can't just sit and line up in it so they can tee off and dial up plays. Ultimately against a team like Southern Miss, much like last year, we've got to hit home on our pressure."

"If we do pressure, or if we're not pressuring, it puts pressure on the front to make sure that they hit home with just a four-man rush. We did get pressure on them last year and it resulted in some turnovers and big plays for us, and we're going to have to do the same to have a chance to beat these guys this year."

Tyler Batson had a big night against FAU, and is becoming a leader in the wide receiver room.

"I really like Tyler Batson. By the time Tyler Batson leaves here, this guy is probably going to be a two-time team captain."

"He's got great leadership. Even though he's younger, he's kind of the leader of the group."

"He is out there working every day. He is a little beat up himself. But he never complains, never takes a day off, he blocks and if he misses a block he's very conscious about correcting it."

"I know he was sick that he had that drop. He's going to be the guy that stays after it and gets extra balls after practice."

"He just has a great work ethic. And you talk about a humble kid, he doesn't say too much."

"He's fun to coach. He's just going to get better and better."

"Again, we have played three different quarterbacks. Hopefully with the stability of one quarterback, they can get on that connection, kind of like they did the other night, and develop a bond and you've got those guys for the next three years together. That's what I'm looking forward to."

UTEP didn't use the Wild Cat on Saturday, but it's not on the shelf.

"It's not on the shelf. We'll carry it into every game and it kind of predicates on what they're giving us."

"We didn't feel the need to go to it the other night. But I'm not saying we won't see it this weekend. We can see it for the remainder of the season."

"We're very confident in Kavika running that package. But what we were doing was working, and at that point there was no need to switch into that."