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Monday Lunch With Kugler

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The head man’s first game week press conference featured naming a quarterback for week one.

Sean Kugler addressed the media for the first time in 2015 talking about a game.

And the big news was the official announcement of Mack Leftwich as UTEP's starting quarterback versus Arkansas.

Here are the other highlights.

Kugler opened up the presser showing a lot of respect for Arkansas.

"The season is on us right now and our team is very excited for many reasons -- the entire season as a whole, but also our opening game against Arkansas, to have a chance to go into an SEC stadium against what we feel was one of the best teams in the country at the end of last year. If you really look at their body of work over the last four or five games, I don't think there was a hotter team in the country, maybe with the exception of Ohio State. They dismantled LSU, Ole Miss and then in the bowl game they held Texas to 59 total yards of offense and got after them as well. They have most of their returning starters back. From a litmus standpoint, this will be the most physical team that we face because I feel they are the most physical team in the country."

He broke down Arkansas' personnel and some key stats from last season.

"As a team, they start fast, they average 10.5 and 10.6 points in the first and second quarter. From our standpoint, it means we can't get behind the eight ball quickly because that's their M.O. They are very minimally penalized, only 5.2 per game for 44.7 yards. That means they're a disciplined team. They utilize much the same formula that we use -- lack of penalties and time of possession. They were 34 minutes time of possession and the style of offense that they use is conducive to that. They try to run the football effectively and they do. They were +7 in the turnover category. Offensively they scored 32 points per game."

"Their quarterback is going to be a three-year starter. He threw for 2,200 yards last year and 20 touchdowns with only five interceptions. He has a great touchdown to interception ratio. He has a 56 percent completion percentage. The things they ask him to do are based off their run game. They have a lot of open opportunities with play action shots."

"They lost one of their top running backs. They had two running backs last year that rushed for 1,000 yards. The backup running back who is now the starter is #3, and I wouldn't call him a backup. The guy rushed for 1,100 yards for them last year, had a 5.4 average and 12 touchdowns. That's a career season for most guys. He is a very explosive ball carrier and he had a long of 84, which tells you a little something about his speed as well."

"They've got a big receiver, 6-2, 210 in Hatcher #4. He led them in receptions with 43, 13.0 average and six touchdowns with a long of 50. Again, because of the fact their run game is so effective, they have some open receivers down the field. They have a talented and big tight end, 6-5, 253 in #84. He is an All-SEC candidate."

"Defensively, they are just as strong. They only gave up 19.2 points per game, 3.5 yards per rush and 323 total yards. That's outstanding defense playing in the premier conference in the country. Their formula is the same as ours. They want to stop the run and they want to run the ball on offense."

"They've got a very experienced secondary. Both their corners are returning. Their leading interception returner is #2. Their other corner, #29, had 13 pass break-ups. Their safety is a playmaker for them, he has 25 career starts. He leads the defense in starts. He had a 100-yard interception return, 59 tackles, five pass break-ups and one interception that he took all the way to the house. They have a very experienced, good-sized secondary."

"Their interior tackle Johnson, 6-2, 290 is very explosive. He had five tackles for losses and four sacks last year for them. Their defensive end is very athletic, 6-4 272. He had three sacks in their spring game. He is touted as an All-SEC candidate. They have three explosive, strong interior players. Hodge, the nose guard #93, is 6-1, 340. Also they've got #78 6-2, 325, and #91 is 6-4 300. So much like on the offensive side of the ball, they're built strong up the middle. They are extremely strong and extremely physical on both sides."

He also explains that Arkansas basically has the biggest offensive line, IN THE WORLD.

"The strength of their team is their offensive line. They return four of five starters. They have the biggest offensive line not only in college football, but you can include the National Football League in that too. They average 6-6, 328 pounds per man. This is an extremely veteran, extremely talented and extremely large offensive line. It's really where they hang their hat and I don't blame them. It's a very talented group. It starts with their center. He's got 21 career starts. He is 6-3, 322. He is the heart and soul of their offensive line. Their left guard is listed at 6-5, 325. He has lost 50 pounds since last year. The right guard was an All-SEC Freshman. He is 6-5, 312. Their left tackle is probably their most athletic lineman. This guy will be a future first rounder. He is 6-5, 340 pounds. The right tackle who also has 21 starts, this is not a typo he's 6-10, 335 pounds. This is an extremely athletic, extremely physical and extremely well-coached offensive line that gets after it. It's the strength of their team.  I would say they know that as well, these guys are on the cover of their media guide."

It's not a Kugler media gathering without a joke about his own offensive lineman.

"I like our offensive line too, but when I look at guys like Elmendorff and some of those other guys and how ugly they are, I'd have a tough time putting them on the cover of our media guide."

Kugler then talks about the decision in naming Mack Leftwich the starting quarterback.

"Mack Leftwich will be the starting quarterback. He won that quarterback competition fair and square. This was monitored all the way since the end of last season, from the offseason conditioning workouts through spring football, through the summer conditioning workouts and through the fall camp. I will say this, I have never been a part of a quarterback competition that statistically was as close. As far as the completion percentage, Mack was only one percentage better than Garrett [Simpson]. Their touchdowns were equal. Their dropped passes were equal. The thing that stood out to me were interceptions, which tilted heavily in favor of Mack. In this style of offense, handling the football and not turning the ball over to other teams is very critical."

He also addressed Garrett Simpson's injury status.

"His availability for this game is still kind of up in the air, but it had no bearing on this decision."

Kugler went on to explain the tangibles Leftwich could bring.

"I think he's got a great quarterback demeanor. Handling formations, handling the clock ... in the style of offense that we run those are very important things. Jameill did a great job with those things last year. Not turning the ball over ... those are all great qualities that Jameill did outstanding for us last year. [Mack] has those. He has a good understanding of our offense. He has a good rapport with the players. They see his competitiveness. He's not afraid to tuck it down and go take a lick. They have seen his toughness. He has taken shots. He gets right back up. I guess a lot of people term that the `it factor' for a quarterback. They've just got that little something special. He has that. And I'm not saying the other quarterbacks don't. I can't compliment Garrett Simpson enough."

With the small stature of Leftwich, the head man addressed moving the pocket around with Leftwich in there.

"We'll move the pocket some. No matter who is the quarterback, I don't agree with ever having one launch point for the quarterback. You get one launch point for the quarterback and you can expect blitz after blitz that are going to hit home. You have to move the quarterback, you have to do some zone read, you have to have some waggle protection, some nakeds, and change the launch points or you won't have one quarterback in there for very long. And that's at any level."

One of the biggest questions in 2015 is will the offense be more diverse, and Kugler said it will start in week one

"We want to be more diverse. We've spent a lot of effort in trying to make that happen. Camp is kind of a collection of your entire package. When you get into game planning mode, you do tend to tone it down a little. Our goal is to be more diverse throughout the season, and that will start with Arkansas.".

Kugler also talked about the offensive keys versus Arkansas.

"We are going to have to run it effectively and we're going to have to throw it effectively. We do want to be more balanced than what we've been in the past. I think we have, overall, more weapons at our disposal when you start talking about the speed of Autrey Golden outside, instead of being a backup, the speed of Batson, the speed of Walker, and then you look at our slot receivers. I think both Jaquan White and Warren Redix are guys that can make plays with the ball in their hands. The guy that I don't discount at all, who probably had the best camp of any of them, was Cole Freytag. He has been catching the ball well, he has been running precise routes, and he fits well into our structure of offense. I know our receiver group is untested and unproven, and you can throw the tight ends in that mix as well, but I like the talent level and I like our work ethic."

One of my questions in preparation for Arkansas was if UTEP was going to use more linebackers to help the defensive line, here is what he responded with.

"It depends on what personnel groupings they use. They do a lot of 22 personnel, which is two tight ends and two backs, or 23 personnel, they'll get heavy on you. They'll throw extra linemen in there, which we have done quite a bit in camp as well. You have seen our defense when we do that. They match up personnel wise. They may bring in an extra defensive lineman. They may bring in an extra linebacker or safety. It's all dependent on what that personnel grouping is. We have to match up with those guys when they do that. Because of our depth at defensive line and linebacker, I think we're better apt to do that this year than we have been the past few years. Again, we have to match up there when they do that."

Aaron Jones is bigger, stronger, and faster, Kugler addressed his star running back's offseason.

"Anybody who was at camp and saw Aaron Jones, I think he's a step faster. He is certainly stronger. He has been in that 15-20 carry range his first couple of years. He was 165 as a freshman and 185 as a sophomore. He's 205 now. He's quicker and more explosive. He has worked his tail off in the weight room. He has built himself up to the position where he could carry it 20 to 25 times per game and not feel bad about that workload. We are going to ride Aaron Jones. He is going to catch the ball out of the backfield. He may line up in the slot. There's no question that he's our top playmaker. He'll be the focus of every defense that we play."

One of the biggest position battles was for the second running back spot behind Aaron JonesJeremiah Laufasa worked his way back from a devastating knee injury to win the job for the season opener.

"It's a big tribute to him. It tells you about his heart. He tore his ACL early in the season. That's a devastating injury. He worked his tail off and he's back to full strength. He pushed himself early. Sometimes he pushed himself too hard. He has learned to [dial] that down. He will be ready to go. He's such a hardworking, physical kid. He brings us a physical presence that will help at the running back spot in some short yardage type things, but also on special teams."

When UTEP has gone up against P5 teams under Kugler, the Miners were outmatched in so many ways partially in special teams.  I asked the coach if recruiting can maybe help UTEP matchup better, even though its overall hard for UTEP to matchup with Arkansas, period.

"I'm not going to lie, matching up with them across the board in every phase, I'd be BS'ing if I said we do. But we do have more tight end, linebacker, fullback types which allows you to have a little bit more size on your special teams. I feel better about our special teams depth than I did last year.  We do lose a little in the secondary. Two of our best players are out for an extended period of time, one for the season. That impacts you because you're probably playing with younger guys that would probably be backups and would be full-time special teams players, where now they're out there in a role and you've got their backups playing special teams. Just like offense and defense, injuries can hurt your depth on special teams. But I feel good about the overall depth of that."

The biggest concern for UTEP fans is coming out of the Arkansas game healthy, the head man confidently isn't worried about it.

"You look at Ishmael Harrison's injury. He was running down the field and tore his quad. Injuries can happen. You can walk to your mailbox and get injured. We don't fear it going into it, but when you play a team as physical as Arkansas, you want to come out of it healthy, just put it that way. I don't fear injuries, but that type of team, they can physically beat you up. We understand that."