On the magnitude of the UTEP vs. ODU game and if it feels like a playoff game
It really does. If you look at the league right now, four teams are already guaranteed to be in the postseason this year. Then you have five more teams including us and UTEP who are battling it out for the remaining three spots. The winner of this game has a great opportunity to make the postseason, so that's how we are looking at it. We really need to capitalize on the fact that these guys are making a tough trip here with a four-hour plane ride and a game that will feel like it's at 10 a.m. based on their internal clocks. We had to go there last year and it wasn't an easy trip. But I know Kugler would have these guys ready to play even if the game started at 6 a.m., so we need to be ready for them.
What's the biggest threat that concerns your coaching staff about UTEP?
Their quarterback just keeps getting better each game. After coming back from the concussion, his escapability and his deep ball are extremely impressive and are right there with any other quarterback in the league. Defensively, the amount of pressure they bring and the unpredictability of the blitzes are a big concern. It comes from all angles. If we can handle that, we can pick up some big plays. We have to take advantage of that and overcome the adversity. Against them last year we had a lot of turnovers and adversity, but then we also had a lot of explosive plays. So we just have to be resilient.
Overall thoughts on UTEP
They have the same record of 4-5 and 2-3 in the league. Sean Kugler, their head coach, is an outstanding coach and was a long-time offensive line coach for the Steelers. His teams are big and physical up front, so the line of scrimmage will be the biggest challenge for us in this game.
Offensively, they are averaging 24 points and 370 yards a game. They got their quarterback, Mack Leftwich, back after he missed three games with a concussion. They played much better on offense last week with him throwing for over 200 yards and two touchdowns in their win over Rice.
Defensively, in their last four games, they have really been getting healthy and improving. They give up an average of 21 points and are a heavy blitz team that plays a lot of man coverage. They run a lot of exotic blitzes, which will be a major challenge for us. As good as we are in the blitz pickup, you have to be really good against these guys.
In conclusion, I really feel that this is the most important game for our program since 2012 in those playoff games because of the implications of this game. Needing to win two of the last three with two of them at home is huge, and the kids realize the sense of urgency of this game. You want to be in a situation at this point in November where you can compete for a spot in the postseason, and we are going to need a great turnout Saturday.
Do you ever wonder how much further along David Washington would be if he had remained at quarterback and had never switched to wide receiver?
I don't wonder about it because it won't change anything. When Washington and I met last season, he wanted to stay at wide receiver. He felt like he could make a bigger impact there, and we all thought Shuler was going to be fine at quarterback. Then we had Blair Roberts get hurt, Nick England has been out for three weeks with a concussion and things just started coming apart. We just weren't as productive as we wanted to be on offense, and that's when David really thought about it and decided maybe he could make a big impact for us at quarterback. We didn't know how he was going to do, but we were all obviously really excited after Charlotte. What he's doing now is mostly just based on how great of a football player he is. He is so smart, athletic and has a great mind for the game. So we are going to keep rolling with what we are doing right now.