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Monday Lunch With Kugler

Somehow, someway, UTEP still has very slim bowl hopes. Sean Kugler talks about how important Friday’s matchup is with Rice.

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Kugler opens his weekly presser with a review of the Southern Miss. game.

"Tough loss for us on the road. Some of the things we felt going into the game that we needed to do to have a chance to win that game we didn't accomplish."

"One thing we talked about offensively was protecting the football. We knew it was going to be a weather game. It turned out it was an extreme weather game. I thought for the second week in a row, the offense did a nice job. "

"No turnovers, we did lay two on the ground but recovered it with our own people. But again, I thought Mack [Leftwich] was good protecting the football, no turnovers for the second straight week. In the second half of the season, we are +3 in the turnover category and we need to continue that trend to have a chance to win games."

"We talked about stealing two possessions through ball control. Our goal was 35 minutes. I thought we started off on that pace, but we had two three and outs in the third quarter that took us off the pace and we did not accomplish that goal."

"We only ended up having 31:29 of possession time. We really felt they were an explosive offense and they proved such. We talked about staying ahead of the chains, negative plays. Disappointed with that ... we had three situations where we had an unblocked player in the hole."

"I thought the running backs ran extremely hard but sometimes it's hard when somebody's right there in your face, and we've got to do a better job of that."

"We talked about no sacks. I was very concerned about that because they were leading Conference USA in sacks heading into that game. I thought our offensive line did a good job protecting the quarterback. I think he only took one true shot in the pocket. They had zero sacks on the afternoon"

Drops and penalties were things Kugler also touched on.

"We talked about no drops, again, in a rain game you have to concentrate on the ball."

"We had two drops. One was a critical drop that was a touchdown. It was a perfectly thrown ball by Mack to Jaquan White, right in his hands and we dropped that and we lost a chance for seven and it resulted in no points for us. We talked about no penalties."

"We had two penalties offensively. We had a holding call on Chris Thomas and a false start by Jerome Daniels. Both of those came at critical junctures in the red zone and one resulted in a field goal. Red zone wise, we were 3-for-3 but two of those resulted in a field goal. That's a loss. We've got to be scoring touchdowns in there and we can't have penalties that take you out of the red zone. That was disappointing."

Despite the mistakes, Kugler felt UTEP's third down offense was good, but UTEP needs to create more big plays on offense.

"I felt third down efficiency for the second week in a row was good. I think Mack is doing a nice job in that area."

"I think the telling stat on offense was we had no chunk plays. We had no chunks runs over 10 yards, and we only had three chunk plays over 20 yards in the passing game. That can not be a trend because Southern Miss in that game had 10 overall chunk plays and the team with more chunk plays is going to end up winning the game."

UTEP's main goal on defense was to eliminate chunk plays, but poor tackling did not let that happen.

"We talked about eliminating the chunk plays. As I mentioned, they had five chunk runs."

"The disappointing part about that was many of those runs could've been tackles for losses or at least no gains. We missed a lot of tackles in this game. Overall as a defense we missed 17 tackles, which is our highest of the season. It was a poor tackling game by us, in particular the secondary. We've got to be much better there. They had five explosive pass plays as well."

Third down defense, and red-zone defense took a step back, along with a lack of pass rush last week.

"Third down efficiency was not up to our standard. Again, we had issues in the red zone. They were 4-for-5. So our formula on defense was not productive in this game."

"Their quarterback had a 69 percent completion percentage. He was pretty comfortable back there. We have to do a better job getting pressure. One sack with our pressure isn't good enough."

Kugler talked about point and momentum swings that helped Southern Miss.

"Mattox made two but we missed on a 50-yarder which really was kind of a turning point in the first half. If we make that field goal, I certainly feel like he had the distance, we pulled it a little to the right, it would've been a 7-6 game at halftime."

"Instead, they pop a run on the very next play with a short field and they ended up scoring and it's 13-3 going into halftime. Again, that's a 10-point swing all based on the fact that we didn't make that field goal."

Kugler also addressed the illegal substitution that gave Southern Miss a free first down in a key spot.

"There was a substitution infraction that was very disheartening. We had 11 guys on the field, a 12th guy ran out there. That's communication that needs to be handled by the coaches on the sideline. It wasn't handled properly. Sometimes when you run into a situation where you're playing a lot of guys on special teams that shouldn't be out there, those things can happen but they shouldn't happen and that's on the coaching staff."

Then he goes on to talk about Rice how important this could end up being.

"Heading into this week, it's a short turnaround. We play Rice on Friday evening. Rice is a team that we have been trying to catch since we got here. This is a team that has won conference championships."

"A well-coached team, very solid always in all three phases. They've got kids that play hard. They're going to be a challenge. Right now they're 4-4, in Conference USA they're 2-2. A win by us, as crazy as this season has been, would put us both 4-5 and 2-3 in the conference and would give us head-to-head over Rice and put us in a good position to actually get to a bowl game."

"So this is a very important game for us. We're on a national stage. Our kids understand, they go to the hotel on Friday evening, you're sitting in your hotel watching the game. Everybody at the bars on a Friday night is watching the college games and they're going to get that stage, and I'm excited about them getting that stage at home in front of the Miner fans."

On Rice's personnel

"They are number one in Conference USA in time of possession. They are probably one of the top teams in the nation at 34:10. They really try to control the clock and they do a great job of doing it."

"Uncharacteristic of them this year, they have been highly penalized. Turnovers, uncharacteristic of a Rice team, they have 17 turnovers on the year so they're -9 turnover wise. We have to force fumbles and we have to get the ball on defense to have a chance in this game."

"They have two outstanding running backs, Dillard a junior and returning starter, and I really like this redshirt freshman. When we saw the updated two deep, they have kind of moved him into the starting slot. His name is Stewart. He has got some juice. This guy gives them a little bit of a change-up dimension."

"They've got two big wideouts in #4 and #9. Typical Rice offense, they control the ball, they are very good in third downs, that's because they are always in manageable third downs. If you don't stop these guys on first and second down, it can be long, methodical drives that can keep the ball away from your offense."

"Last year when we played Rice, they were one of the best rushing defenses in the conference. They are giving up [196.5 a game] rushing, so I'm sure that's something they're trying to rectify. "

"Rice last year was number one at getting to the quarterback. This year they have had a little bit more of a problem doing that. I'm sure those are things over there that they are trying to rectify heading into our game."

"They do have some outstanding players at the linebacker position, starting with #4 Lyons. Their defensive ends are probably like ours, a little bit smaller but very active #8 Brown and #44 Womac. They also have another linebacker #25 that is very active for them. They have always typically had hard-hitting safeties and that's no different."

Once thing that stood out about Rice is the sacks their offensive line has allowed.

"One thing that has stood out, they have given up 26 sacks. For a team that doesn't primarily throw the ball, we need to try to take advantage of that as a defensive line. But they are very experienced at the skill positions and they're excellent at ball control offense."

Kugler gives his take on college football on Friday nights and if it affects UTEP.

"High school football is kind of special in Texas. There's probably a lot of people that love the Miners whose kids are playing on Friday night. That's probably the only drawback."

"Playing a Friday night game can be energizing for the fans. When the high school season is still going on, you probably lose a few fans and people that are interested in football."

"For us, we recruit El Paso so heavily, we love having all of our local recruits at the games. That's what kind of hurts because you don't have the ability to have those kids at this game. Because I want those kids around our team as much as we can. But to have a national stage and get a TV game, I think you kind of have some tradeoff there."

Kugler talked about creating more big plays on offense, but how does it start?

"Number one, you've got to dial them up. I talked to the staff about minimum two chunks a quarter. We have to dial those up. And then you've got to execute."

"There's a lot that goes into that. If it's off the play action, you've got to be running the ball well. Kind of like we did against FAU, we were running the ball well and the play action worked. If the running game isn't going solid, the play actions don't work."

"But we've got to manufacture shots down the field because I still do believe with guys like [Tyler] Batson and Autrey Golden and Cole Freytag, Jaquan [White] and Warren [Redix], they do have the ability to stretch the field and we've got to dial those up and execute them when they are dialed up."

Kugler explains the injury situation at right tackle

"Chris Thomas had a shoulder separation in that game. He actually went in at halftime and tried to have it treated, came out, tried to suck it up in the third quarter and actually landed on it and probably separated it a bit more. His availability for this game will probably be right up to the wire."

"As he has been playing, John De La Rosa has been getting healthier and healthier. John is healthy for the first time this year. I think he'll do a steady job in there. When he did go in the game against Southern Miss, he did a nice job."

"Unfortunate for Chris, if he is back we'll probably roll those guys. But if he's not, happy for John. He'll get his opportunity again and be the next man up."

Ryan Metz is UTEP's backup quarterback according to Kugler

"We list Metz as the backup. We could utilize a couple of different quarterbacks in there. We haven't used the wildcat much in the last two games. It doesn't mean we won't use it in this game. But again, if Mack were to get injured or something along those lines, Metz would be the next quarterback in the game."