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Monday Lunch With Kugler

UTEP’s great escape, and the start of conference play are the subjects of this week’s edition of Monday Lunch with Kugler.

With conference play just days away, Sean Kugler reflects on UTEP's final out of conference game, and the C-USA opener with UTSA this Saturday.

Here are the highligts from Sean Kugler's weekly media luncheon.

Kugler opened things this week with a statement on former UTEP defensive lineman Joey Kraemer who passed away this weekend.

Then Kugler dove into last week's win

"It wasn't our best performance, in particular the first half. But again, I felt the team responded well in the second half both offensively and defensively and did what they had to do to get a win. We're 2-2, which was our goal at this point. We're undefeated at home. We're excited about having the opportunity to play UTSA for our Homecoming game coming up."

"Offensively for this game, we talked about having no pre or post-snap penalties. This is a trend that needs to drastically improve. We had two holding calls."

"We had an intentional grounding due to an assignment error in protection and two substitution infractions, which can't happen. One was based on a player and we had a gaffe at the end of the half where we had too many guys on the field. When you're dealing with a young quarterback, you're going to go through some growing pains with that. But it's something we need to clean up quickly."

"Time of possession was in our favor. I don't think we did a good job on third downs, in particular getting stuffed on short yardage, again, due to an assignment error."

"Defensively, we talked about stuffing the run. A lot of their rushing yards came on the one long quarterback scramble, which can't happen. We had him bottled up. I thought that guy was a very nifty quarterback, a guy that can make plays with his legs and he busted a long one."

"We talked about having hard man focus on the receivers."

"Again, we got beat by #22 twice, one for a 90-yard touchdown in a second and long situation where we should have that thing bottled up. A concerning number is teams have been averaging 19 yards a catch, and that's too many explosive plays on us up to this point."

"We talked about getting off the field on third downs. We got off the field at a success rate of 37.5 percent, which is decent. We've got to be better than that. We were better in the second half than we were in the first."

"I felt Incarnate Word was a good team. I felt that all week. I was nervous about this game because of the quality of their defense. I mentioned after the game, we're an extremely banged up team."

"We've just got to keep fighting."

"They're not going to cancel the season because we're banged up. We've got to keep fighting, keep getting after it, keep trying to improve on fundamentals and keep trying to work on our weaknesses, because we have several at this time. That's up to the coaching staff, the players and the want-to of everybody."

Kugler talks about UTSA

"In my mind they have the hardest schedule in the country. They are sitting at 0-4 right now but I think they are a very good football team."

"They started off with four bowl teams from 2014. They played at then-#22 ranked Arizona, played them extremely tough and lost 42-32. They played Kansas State. That was a tight game all the way to the third quarter. It was also a ranked bowl team."

"They played #25 Oklahoma State, who will probably be much higher after they beat Texas. It kind of got away from them in that game. And they played another bowl team, Colorado State, and had a chance to beat them last week. They lost 33-31."

"They have been very competitive, they have played an extremely hard schedule and they're coming to our place this year."

Then he breaks down their personnel

"Overall as a team, they have been about even in time of possession. They have been penalized more than they were last year. They are averaging nine per game.  It's kind of a reflection of a younger team."

"They graduated some guys from last year. Where their biggest struggle has been is turnovers, much like ours was up until this past week. Going into last week, we were -6. Overall they are -8. That's probably the telling story for them with where their record is and where they're at."

"Offensively they're a multiple offense, they're doing a little bit more up-tempo type things this year. They are averaging 20 points per game. They are running the ball extremely well. #2 is an outstanding running back."

"Their quarterback #4 did not play against us last year. He is very athletic, runs their offense very well. They play some other quarterbacks in there but this guy has 699 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. He can also run. He has a long of 42 with a touchdown. He is another guy that can make plays with his legs."

"I think they have an NFL-type player in their tight end Morgan. He is 6-4, 260. This guy is physical. He has great hands and can run. He reminds me of our own guy Plinke. He has 17 receptions, 222 yards, 13.1 per catch which is excellent for a tight end, and two touchdowns. He is kind of their go-to-guy in the passing game which gives them a threat."

"They've got four excellent receivers. #88 Grubb is their leading receiver right now. But #7 and #83 also have touchdowns. As I mentioned, the two returning starters, the right guard has 18 starts under his belt. And the right tackle has 11 starts under his belt. The right tackle is very athletic in my mind."

"Defensively, they hang their hat on playing good defense."

"They are a nickel 4-2-5 defense. They have always been stout up front. This year they have played some quality opponents, they are giving up 43 points a game, 182 yards rushing, 4.4 a clip, 262 passing. They have given up some yards but they have played some of the best offenses in the country when you talk about Arizona and Oklahoma State."

To replace some lost depth at running back, UTEP may go with Kavika Johnson at tailback this week

"Kavika probably will get more reps at running back. We have utilized him there some. We did some in the past game, especially after the injury to Darrin Laufasa. That's something we'll look at."

"But again, Jeremiah Laufasa will get most of the load. We still have LA Dowell. We're going to get Treyvon Hughes going a little bit. He is a young player that needs to get in his groove. He'll get some opportunities this week."

Darrin Laufasa's status is unknown

"I am hoping we'll get Darrin Laufasa back. But I can't tell you that right now. I don't know."

With uncertainty at running back, Kugler hints at more passing as a possible change of identity.

"I think we have to. We are really depleted at the running back position."

"If you add Darrin to the mix, you're talking about your number one, number two and number three running backs aren't there. Your starting quarterback at the start of the season isn't there."

"Our receivers are making plays. I think Metz is doing a great job within the offense, making plays, making the right reads and throwing accurate balls for the most part. We have become more balanced over the last two weeks and we'll probably have to continue that throughout the season."

"Again, are we going to become a four wide receiver spread offense? No."

"We do have to mix in the run and the play action pass. Probably out of necessity, you'll see more balance and maybe even at times leaning towards the passing game. As the head coach, I don't care. I don't care if we go out and run the wishbone if it gives us our best opportunity to win games. That's what we're in the business of doing is winning games."

Kugler explained some of the run game's issues were with the fullbacks

"I wouldn't pin that all on the offensive line. I had mentioned the protection was an assignment area, that was actually the fullback."

"Some of those tackles for losses were based on perimeter blocking, which sometimes involves the receivers and tight ends. The one that stuck my crawl was the fourth and one. That was an interior mental assignment."

"Again, our offensive line plays extremely well. I think Spencer Leftwich is an outstanding coach. They gave up no sacks in 28 attempts.  They just had a tough night. When your run game plan goes awry quickly, and you're shuffling guys that didn't practice into those plays, it makes it a little bit more difficult."

Kugler was pleased with the effort from defensive tackle Sky Logan who will see his snaps increase this week.

"Sky did have a good game and he'll get more reps and potentially even start in this next game."

"I mentioned it last week, the guy that is playing the best, the guy that is working the hardest in practice, the guy that's showing up on film, that's going to be the guy who's out there playing. We'd be crazy not to get our best 11 out there."

"Sky did a great job. He did generate some pressure. Even on stunts where didn't get the sack, he forced a sack. I was very pleased with his progress. He'll probably get the start this week and I'm looking forward to him getting better and several players improving their performances."

Last year UTEP shutout a struggling UTSA offense, this year things are different according to Kugler.

"They are a little bit more up-tempo offensively."

"Last year I felt UTSA, probably two games into the season, was probably the best team in our conference. Then they lost their quarterback. And then the backup quarterback got hurt. It really put them in a tailspin."

"They played outstanding defense, they can run the ball, they can do everything. Now this year, they got healthy quarterback play and you're seeing the exact same thing."

"They are playing with great fundamentals. I think they are well coached. I think they are a hard-nosed program. I think they're physical. I don't see a drop-off in play whatsoever."

"The young guys they've got coming up, some of those guys have a little bit more talent than some of the older guys that they graduated. But those guys had more experience."

"They are probably in the same boat that we are right now. They haven't gone through the injuries that we have. But they are a younger team. You see their depth chart has changed quite a bit. That probably means that they're tinkering around with certain guys, trying to get the right mix out there as we are."