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Monday Lunch With Kugler

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NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Texas El Paso Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

UTEP's main focus during the bye week was to get healthy, and the mission appears accomplished

“We utilized the bye week this week for many reasons. Number one, the main focus was getting guys healthy. Going into this week, I think we’ll field the healthiest team this year. With guys like Darrin Laufasa, Ryan Metz – he’s been cleared to go – both the Jones brothers, Jerome Daniels, who’s missed past few games, Kalon Beverly, who’s also missed the past few games and Gino Bresolin, who’s been hurt the past few games. All those guys utilized the bye week for great treatment and we’ve kept them off the field and they’re healthy and ready to go, which is a positive thing for us."

Kugler then explains what the Miners did to improve their on-field work during the bye

“We tried to attack the thing we’ve been doing poorly during the first half of the season. We got a lot of fundamental work done; we worked on tackling, ball security – two things we need to improve upon, and then we spent a lot time this week working on third down segments. We did Miners versus Miners. We did red zone work with Miners versus Miners to get the speed and competiveness."

UTEP held their annual scout scrimmage during the bye week, but it will now be a weekly occurrence

"We always have a scout scrimmage during the bye week and we talked about it as a staff. We’re actually going to continue doing this; we’re going to do this on Sundays after our team meetings and allow the younger guys to scrimmage and keep continuing to develop these guys. They have so much fun doing it, the coaches really enjoy it, the players enjoy it and there’s no better way to get out there to learn football than to get out there and play."

"Some of those guys really showed up to get there in the scout scrimmage and cited some of those players after the scrimmage. But two of those guys have been promoted to the travel roster because of their work they’ve been doing on the scout team on a daily basis and that’s Rueben Guerra and Christian Johnson. Both those guys are solid football players who we really feel can help us and potentially help us this year."

UTEP's coaching staff also hit the recruiting trail during the week off

“The coaches went on the road recruiting and our entire staff went on the road recruiting and blanketed recruiting areas that we target. We hit El Paso and currently we have five offers to El Paso kids; that number could grow and again, it starts here in El Paso and grows from there and the reception has been good."

Kugler held a high number of staff meeting to dissect and evaluate everything

“The main thing we did as a staff was we evaluate every position. We had a lot of staff meetings to discuss things that we could do better as a staff. We working on solving problems and tried to improve and change."

"We really do understand that were 1-5, we’re not 5-1 and we’re not 4-2. We’re behind the eight ball, our backs are against the wall and we have to choose to fight back. But to start to do that, you have to solve problems."

Kugler toned down the physicality and competition in practice this season after numerous injuries last season, but feels that has also toned down UTEP's gameday energy. So he made a major change.

"And we did a team evaluation from a practice standpoint. If I could pinpoint one thing, the first half of the season that I felt was lacking – and trust me, I’ve been trying to spin my wheels on this whole thing where we’re at – it’s been lack of energy."

"I believe energy comes from within and how you prepare during the week. One thing that we’ve always done here was a lot of live hitting and competition type drills. We did a lot of it at training camp and the energy was very good during training camp and the first game. But it kind of waned off and we eliminated those type things and more so out of fear of injury."

“You look at again, we’ve been practicing smarter and not hitting as much. But we’re getting the same injuries in the games. Basically what I’m telling you is, we can’t fear those things."

He then explains how things will change from a practice standpoint

"We’re going to get back to some live competition in our practice and get back to more competitive things like one-on-one drills that bring out the natural juices and the players to bring energy. If you do it during the week, it carries into the game. I can fault myself for that, I got away from that and we’re going back to it."

“We had a lot of visits with our leaders, our captains and our seniors and they want it. They want to go back to that, which didn’t surprise me but I was very happy that they did. These kids want to compete and they want to win."

Even after a 1-5 start, Kugler and the players remain upbeat

"I do not think that the season is over and I do not think that the season is over. I think that these kids are going to go out there and fight and try to rebound the season. As a head coach, I’m going to go out there and fight and try to rebound the season. There’s no white towels being thrown in here and we’re going to work our tails off to salvage this thing and turn it around."

With the dissection and coaches breakdown comes some new personnel changes

“Personnel wise, there are a lot of bodies you’ll see more on the field. We did some strong evaluation of our personnel with guys like Ryan Metz. Metz will be our starting quarterback moving forward. He’s healthy and cleared and we really feel he gives a lot with his legs, his arm and his competitiveness. I’m looking forward to getting him back on the field."

"We have moved Brandon Moss to offense full time. We want to utilize his speed and athleticism. He was doing a good job on defense, but he was sitting there as the fourth cornerback and you don’t get to play a lot as the fourth corner. Moss’s speed and talent is too much to be sitting on the sidelines."

"You’re going to see a lot more of Eddie Sinegal, as I think you saw a glimpse of what he brings during the last few games. This kid is a playmaker and he needs to be on the field. You can’t learn how to play football and learn how to digest coverages without being out there and doing it."

The personnel changes also involve UTEP's young running backs

"I think you’ll see the young running backs out there more. We like what we see out of Quadraiz Wadley and Kevin Dove. You’re going to see those guys more; Aaron Jones can’t get every carry and we have to take the pressure off him by having a passing game that is efficient. And again, that starts with the quarterback position and branches off. We want to get some playmakers out there making big plays. Walter Dawn is another guy that really come on strong in practice and we need to unitize his speed and athleticism."

Kugler explains the changes along the offensive line

“Up front we made some changes that if you look at the depth chart, we’re trying to get our best five out there. There’s a lot of circumstances that fall into that and there has been some injuries. Right now, Greg Long has solidified himself and he’s our best left tackle, there’s no doubt about that and we’re going to keep him in there next to Will Hernandez. They’re going to provide a nice tandem together."

"And Derron Gatewood, even though he was hobbled, brings us stability at the right guard position where we have not had this year Tanner Stallings will be our starting center; he’s a very smart and capable center."

"Gatewood will be the guard and then Jerome Daniels will move from his left position to his right. But it’s not foreign to him, he played it before." There will be roles for players like John De La Rose and Jerrod Brooks in our heavy packages.

Good looking freshman tight end Sani Buckingham will also get some more looks

“Offensively, we’ll also take a look at Sani Buckingham, who’s a 280-pound tight end, is very athletic, probably in bit raw and newer to the sport, but he’s really come on as of late. He can give us some on-edge blocking ability and I’m looking forward to that."

Young guys on the defensive side will also see their name called as well

And there are some young guys on the defense and in particular tying to generate more pass rush from the defensive line. We’re looking at guys like Gene Hopkins, [Foster] Dixson and Christian Richardson. These are young guys and athletic guys who need to be on the field more and big Denzel [Chukwukelu]. You see some fresher faces out there and again, having a healthier team and integrating some of these guys, I think from a personnel standpoint, that’s where we are heading."

Looking at UTSA

“Looking to this week, UTSA is currently a 3-3 team. They’ve played some outstanding teams. They played ASU [Arizona State] down to wire and they played a tough Colorado State team down to the wire. They lost to Old Dominion in our conference."

"They beat Southern Miss and beat them handily. They jumped on them fast and that’s kind of been their M.O. They’ve been jumping on teams fast and they’re averaging 10 points per first quarter."

“They’ve been good in the turnover category. They’re even, gained eight [turnovers], lost eight [turnovers]. They’re third in Conference USA in the turnover margin."

"Offensively, as far as points per game, they’re in the middle of the pack at seventh, 26 points per game. Their rushing offense has come on as of late and I think that they have two outstanding running backs in Jalen Rhodes and Jarveon Williams. Both those guys can go as their second the third-leading rushers and their second and third-leading receivers, so they can come out of the backfield and catch the ball as well. The thing that has really stood out, they’ve had down-the-field explosive plays. They have had touchdowns of 92 [yards], 80, 77, 71, 51 and 51. And they’ve jumped on teams early with explosive plays."

“Passing wise, I think that they’ve made a big improvement. I think their quarterback Dalton Sturm is having an outstanding season; close to 1,200 yards, 10 touchdowns, three interceptions and completing the ball at a high percentage at 64 percent and they’re passing for 227 yards per game, which puts them in sixth in Conference USA some with some very good passing teams in our conference."

“They’ve given up 22 sacks, probably one of the things that stand out, they’ve been giving up close to 3.5 sacks per game. And again, we need to generate some sacks and again, that comes from working on it from a fundamental standpoint, from a personnel standpoint and dialing up more pressure more often."

“Where they’ve been very good on both sides of the ball is third down conversions and red zone touchdowns. They rank fourth in Conference USA in both categories. That’s why they are 3-3 and fielding a very competitive team."

"They have some graduate transfers. They have a graduate transfer at left tackle from LSU and they have a graduate transfer safety that looks like a linebacker, from LSU. I’m sure that comes from the ties from their head coach [Frank Wilson] coming from LSU."

“Defensively, they’re number one in points per game – the number one stat that matters. They’re number one in Conference USA and only giving up 24 points per games. They’re playing outstanding defense and stopping the run. They rank fourth in stopping the pass and then overall they’re fourth in total yards."

"They’re a very good defense and very athletic. Their secondary and linebackers is where they’ve made their biggest improvement. They have some long and athletic secondary guys. They have two or three safeties over 220 pounds. They look like linebackers and defensive linemen."

“They have a freshman linebacker [Josiah Tauaefa] who’s close to leading the nation in tackles. He’s got 68 tackles and this guy, number 55, is a football player. He’s got 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, an interception and six quarterback hits. Now if you look at their stats on sacks during the year, they’re 11th in Conference USA in sacks, they haven’t generated a lot of sacks, but they have the most quarterback hits in Conference USA. A lot of times quarterback hits are as important or more important than sacks. They have 25 quarterback hits on the year."

"Again their safeties, Nate Gaines [number 11] is 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and number eight [Michael Egquagu] is 6-foot, 220 pounds and the LSU transfer [Jordan Moore] is 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. They run a three-safety scheme and one of those guys floats down as an outside linebacker; they’re all physical and they all bring the wood."

"What we cannot do, is go on the road and get behind the eight ball early. We need to come out fast and that needs to be the focus for us in this game.”

When Metz started against LA Tech, he was effective in hitting tight ends. Will it continue?

“Ryan plays plays really well within the scheme. If his read is one to two to three to run, Ryan is going to do exactly what he’s coached to do. Ryan has really developed as a quarterback. I’ve always been his biggest fan when it comes to things like energy and leadership. I don’t think you can draw up a better kid."

"The thing about Ryan that scares opponents in talking to even Skip Holtz [LA Tech head coach] after that game, if it’s not there, he can make plays with his feet. He’s fearless and sometimes to his disadvantage But you want that from a quarterback."

"When your quarterback goes out and get his helmet knocked off trying to run over someone down the sideline, that what I’m talking about bringing energy to your team and having your teammates trust you. And that what he brings to our team. We need to keep him upright and healthy and he needs to keep himself upright and healthy. He needs to be himself and not ask him to do anything other than to be Ryan Metz.”

UTSA runs a multiple offense, based on a pro-style running game, how does UTEP slow it down?

“Number one you have to stop the run because the backs are outstanding and they can run the football. That’s what they want to do, they want to run the football, they kind of want to get you to load the box, then take shots over your head."

"And they do have capable receivers to make big plays. Their quarterback has also made some outstanding runs this year. We need to be balanced, we need to be in our gaps and we need to play with great fundamentals. These are the areas we need to attack."

"I can sit here and mention a lot of things, but it comes down to fundamentals. Football comes down to blocking, tackling, catching, throwing and hanging on to the football. The one thing I think at the end of the year if I’m sitting here describing how we finished up, I think it’s going to be did we secure football on offense and did we get that ball on defense?

"We need to start attacking the ball on defense, we need to force turnovers and we cannot turn the ball over. That will be the one telling stat. The rest are the fundamental things that I know our kids are going to attack, are the schematic things that coaches are going to attack and the personnel things is we are trying to get the guys in the right spots. We have to keep plugging away and finding those people to plug in there and I think the coaches have done a good job doing that and now those guys need to go out and produce. I have every confidence that they will.”

Will UTEP take more shots downfield in the passing game?

“We need to take more shots. I don’t know if you can just say it’s just mandated so many times in this quarter, but I will say at the end of the game we need to take more shots down the field and there’s a lot that goes in that. The first being protection, running the ball efficiently and guys separating. We’re trying to get more speed on the field, trying to be more efficient by getting our best five out there on the offensive line and if we can do that, it allows those things to happen.”

UTEP's penalties issues have come in the worst situations when the offense makes a play, Kugler explains how they worked on that during the bye

“The penalties have dropped in the last few games and it’s really been emphasized hard to limit those penalties. But some of them have come at inopportune times. Penalties come down to fundamentals."

"Whether you get a passing interference on defense or whether you get a holding penalty on offense, it comes down to fundamentals with the simplest things like moving your hands or moving your feet and those type things."

You can drill that, you can emphasize it, but ultimately you have to be in the right position during the game. You can solve those things and we’ve really not been penalized a lot over the last four years. And when you look at the overall penalties, we’re not highly penalized team, but it always seems that we’ve been penalized in most inopportune times."

"That’s something I really think that we can clean up and that’s something the kids are putting a big focus on with the coaches. That’s something we need to improve in the second half of the season.”

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