Normally, we would have a blogger, or beat writer breakdown the week's upcoming opponent, but this week we went straight for the head coach.
Larry Kennan is in his fourth year at the helm of the Incarnate Word program and has overseen change, growth, and the physical competitive nature of his program evolve in just a short time.
Saturday marks the program's first FBS opponent when the Cardinals come into the Sun Bowl to face UTEP, Kennan gives us some insight and what to expect from his Cardinals and his relationship with Sean Kugler.
Can you give us just a brief evolution summary of the program since you took over at UIW?
Four years ago when I took over we were 2-9 as a Division Two team. So we were a bad Division Two team. Since that time we have gone to Division one (FCS) and it's been a hard go because we started out with 36 scholarships and this is the first time we've had a full complement of 63 scholarships which is what Division 1-AA has. I wouldn't say we've struggled, but what I would say is we have recruited very well for four years and we're now at a point where we feel like we have a decent cast to compete with good Division 1-AA teams. It's taken awhile, it's hard to build a program as Sean Kugler is finding out there, you have to go through a process, and we've gone through that. We're a lot better than we have been, but not even close to being where we're going to be a year from now or two years for now.
You talk about program growth, but how do you approach your kids in preparing for their first FBS opponent in the program's history?
We try not to make too big a deal out of it because it's a game, but it is a big deal because we're chartering a flight, we're flying there and it's a big deal because our guys don't do that a lot. We have great respect for them. I know Sean, he was in the NFL when I was, and I have great respect for him. I've kind of followed him because I always liked him and thought he would do a good job when he got the job there, and he has. They're an outstanding team, and we feel good about going out and playing them. It's a big deal to us and we don't try to make it any bigger than any other game because our guys are going to get excited just because they are playing an FBS School, a team that was in a bowl game, and all that all that stuff.
Sean Kugler talked about your team hanging their hat on defense in a sense, what is the defensive key this week for you defensive unit?
Stopping UTEP's run game, that's a major problem. They run the ball against everbody, and we need to slow them down. It will be very difficult to do that, we're still awfully young on defense, and aren't as nearly big or physical as probably UTEP is. We will have to do the best we can and hang on, and hope to hit a couple plays on offense and have a chance.
Is balance on offense a key to your offense, and how will that help your defense?
I'm a little bit old school. So the idea of getting out there with four wides and throwing every down and being on the field averaging two minutes of time of possession doesn't make sense to me. It puts your defense in way too much pressure, so we like to run it, and throw play action and drop back. As we get better, and as we get better receviers then we'll throw it more and more because that's my background. But in order for us to win right now we need to run and throw play action and play sound defense and hopefully we can get the ball back from UTEP.
After watching film on UTEP's new starting quarterback Ryan Metz, what stood out to you the most from his performance last week?
I haven't looked at him a great deal because I spend most of my time on the offensive side. But the defensive guys they are talking about that he is an athlete and can do some nice things. Anytime you lose your starter it's a tough deal. But obviously we have great respect for him.
What is your biggest concern heading into this weekend's game?
They have big, strong physical athletes, which if you know Sean Kugler you know that's what they are going to be. They are going to hit you in the mouth, and they are going to keep hitting you in the mouth. They have very, very good scheme on both sides on offense and defense. These guys can coach, and we have a lot of respect for them.