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Monday Lunch With Kugler

Kugler talks about how energizing the UTSA win was

“It was a very energizing win for our team, a much needed win where we’re at in our season. I know out players and coaches made a commitment for the second half of the season to start it with a clean slate and treat this thing as a new season."

"The players really bought into that; not only in the game but starting with the entire week of practice. We had physical practices, there was great energy during practices and the kids prepared and the results showed in the game."

"Very resilient effort by them, being down twice by 14 points and being in some bleak situations in the overtime settings. Like when we fumbled at one-yard line, and then [UTSA] lined up to kick the game winner, so we iced the kicker and he missed. So we did get some second opportunities in that game. Kids were never phased and they kept competing at the end and there were some outstanding individual efforts as well."

Breaking down the offense

“Offensively, we wanted to run the ball efficiently. If you take out the two kneel downs – we knelt down at the end of the half and also before the overtime – if you take those two [kneel downs] out, we averaged 4.5 [yard per carry], which is the goal every week. We rushed for 159 yards, so we did have efficient runs which led to efficient play-action passes and some shots down the field."

Ryan Metz had a nice game in his second start

“I thought Ryan Metz was outstanding. Metz had his second opportunity to start this year and he played outstanding in both games. He was 65 percent completion percentage – 15-fo-23 with 211 yards and three touchdowns – but more importantly, he took care of the football and he had no interceptions. Really I thought throughout the game he made only one off-decision and far as stepping up in the pocket, the pocket was clean for the most part the entire night. [Metz] only took one sack and really didn’t get hit often at all versus a team that led Conference USA in quarterback hits."

UTEP's offensive line took a huge step forward

“In particular number 93 [Marcus Davenport], I thought the offensive line, the tackles in particular, did great job of shutting him down. He had no quarterback hits and only three tackles. He’s a dynamic player. Having Jerome Daniels and John De La Rosa healthy together for the first time, two senior leader tackles, really helped that cause. I felt the line was solidified in that game."

"The offensive line, I think played their best game of the year and opened up some lanes in the running game especially after the first two series. Then they did a nice job in protection."

Aaron Jones did a bunch of Aaron Jones things

Aaron Jones had an outstanding game, 113 yards rushing, averaged 5.4 yards per carry and one touchdown run. He also did great things in the passing game. Jones had four receptions for 56 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his catches on those rail routes were outstanding."

Walter Dawn will carry out the Pick Axe for the Old Dominion game.

“Walter Dawn, who is Captain of the Week, will carry out pick axe representing UTEP against Old Dominion for our Homecoming game. [Dawn] had four carries for 38 yards with a 9.5 yards per carry average and he had two touchdowns and he also had one touchdown reception for 74 yards. He’s a young man who we’ve been really trying to groom along to get him on the field and we felt he was ready to go. A lot of times is takes about that amount of time for a true freshman to understand the offense and get out there. He really gives us a dynamic spark and I think he’s going to be fun to watch for the Miner fans the next few years and what a great kid he is. "

Kugler made sure to point out the production the El Paso kids put out on Saturday

“The thing that I noticed after the game is one of the things we challenged the team about before is to take El Paso on the road. We really have a lot of players and we’ve counted 14 players in our two-deep [depth chart] from El Paso. This is the production they had. Metz had 211 yards, three touchdowns; Jones had 169 total yards, three touchdowns; Warren Redix had two catches and the game winner on an unbelievable able catch at the end of the game; Eddie Sinegal had two catches; Cole Freytag had one catch; Kavika Johnson had a throw for a 74-yard touchdown to Dawn; and even Brandon Moss drew a pass interference penalty that probably, if the ball was thrown a little bit farther, would’ve been a touchdown for him. So the El Paso kids did a really great job of representing the city."

After a slow start, UTEP opened up the pass game, and it paid off

“We took shots. We talked about taking more shots down the field and talked about explosive plays. Our goal is 10 explosive plays per game, we achieved that. We had 10 explosives in that game and usually that tilts in our favor if we do that. The negative of the game that I could see is the ball on the ground. Still, we need to attack ball security in practice. We put three on the ground and fortunately for us we got two of them back. But one could’ve been a very critical one that we overcame which was the fumble on one-yard line. And then the first quarter, the first two series started slow and had some three-and-outs. And in the fourth quarter, I think that both defenses were playing outstanding. We had some three-and-outs in that situation and some poor field position."

Kugs broke down the defense

“Defensively, we got an interception from Dashone Smith and it was really at a key moment in the game. They had the ball on [the UTEP] 40 [yard line] at the end of the game, he came up big, played the ball outstanding and made a play. [Smith] also played well at safety and had a bunch of tackles in that game."

"We did have two sacks on the quarterback. [Nick] Usher had a sack and then a combination sack between Silas Firstly and Dante Lovilette. We also had seven tackles for loss but most of those showed up in the fourth quarter when we needed them. Coach Mason dialed up some pressures in those situations and the guys hit home on those pressures."

"We held them scoreless in fourth quarter and only two field goal attempts in overtime. So even though they generated a lot of yardage and got up on us twice in that game, I think when I really counted and really mattered, I think the defense stepped up. They were a tired defense, they played 93 snaps and to suck it up in those situations and continue to play hard in overtime, I thought they did an outstanding job."

The negative on the defensive side was the big plays UTSA created early on

“I felt there were too many explosive games given up; in particular, the run game. Other then really one pass in the first quarter where [Devin] Cockrell got his feet tangled up, he ended up actually falling where the guy actually looked like he was wide open in which he was and the safety fell down. Other than that, they limited pass explosive plays very well during the game. I thought the corners, again, have done a nice job for us in that situation. There are some things to clean up. But again, I really feel in when game was on the line, I thought the defense stood up."

Devin Cockrell is a solid safety, but is also doing damage on special teams

"Cockrell had 10 tackles and other thing, Cockrell played close to 90 snaps on defense. But he had another 25 snaps on special teams. He was Top Gun again and that’s six of seven games that Devin Cockrell has been Top Gun. That hasn’t been done since LA Dowell, and LA Dowell was one of the best special team’s players I’ve ever seen in college. So Devin Cockrell has picked up that slack for him."

Kugler was proud of the fight his team played with

“I think if I could describe the game on one way, the kids just refused to lose. Much like myself, they were very disappointed with first half of season. They were very disappointed what our record was, but they’re also fighters and they fight back. There were so many instances in that game where it could’ve went the other way and they just refused to let that happen and I was very proud of the team."

I wish you could’ve seen them in the locker room after the game. I’ve never seen a team that energized. They looked like they had just won the Super Bowl and they were jumping up and down, hugging each other and dancing."

From a coaches stand point, that’s why I coach. Those are the moments of enjoyment that you get out of this thing and I was very happy for the players. In those types of games when you win a game like that can go a long way from an energy standpoint and we need to carry that into this game, our Homecoming game this week, against Old Dominion."

Moving on to Old Dominion….

“Moving forward to Old Dominion. They’re a 4-3 team and 2-1 in Conference USA play. They had a tough go last week at Western Kentucky, a very good Western Kentucky team. But [ODU] beat UTSA, they beat Charlotte, they beat UMass and then they beat an FCS school [Hampton]. Their losses have come against good teams; Appalachian State was supposed to be ranked, North Carolina State is also an outstanding team and so is Western Kentucky. They’re 4-3, their record is what it says.

“Offensively, they’ve always been good on offense. They’re fifth in Conference USA, averaging 32 points a game. They’re running the ball better than they ever have. They have two outstanding running backs."

"I always thought [Ray] Lawry number 33 was an outstanding back and he was an All-Freshman Conference USA and all-conference last year. But the other kid number 35 [Jeremy] Cox, who’s about the same size, he’s got 10 touchdowns for them and actually has more yardage than Lawry."

"This will be the biggest group of receivers that we’ll face during the entire year. We’ve seen these guys the last couple years. Number six [Zach] Pascal, he’s 6-foot-2, 214 [pounds]. [Pascal] leads the team in receptions. [Jonathan] Duhart, he’s 6-3, 221 and then number seven [Travis Fulgham], he’s 6-3, 214. They put them on the field the same time, these are big, physical receivers and we have to cover them well."

ODU's experience stands out to coach

“They’re a very experienced team. They returned 17 starters, so they’re a senior laden team. Their quarterback [David Washington] is extremely athletic. He was injured last year, but we faced him last year and he’s an outstanding guy. [Washington] is a big guy, he’s 6-3, 210, he can run, he can zip [the ball]. He’s got 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. Again, we’re facing another senior quarterback that’s really playing well for them. Then up front, I think their center was all-conference freshman last year form them and that’s the only spot they replaced is on the offensive line.

Looking at ODU's defense

“Defensively is where they made a big jump. They’ve moved in the upper pack of Conference USA in every category – in points per game they’re sixth, they’re not giving up a ton of yards rushing, they’re fifth in Conference USA and they’re fourth overall in Conference USA. They’re good on third downs on defense. They’re third in Conference USA in third downs. But where they’re really good is generating sacks, they have 19 sacks and third in Conference USA."

"They’re number one in turnovers forced. They’ve forced seven fumbles and seven interceptions. In particular, theyre getting their production form their front line in their defensive ends, who are seniors, and their linebackers, who are also seniors. Number 47 [TJ Ricks] leads their team in tackles, close to leading Conference USA, he’s got 60 tackles Their other linebacker [Anthony] Wilson is second on the team in tackles, but he leads them in tackles for loss, sacks and pass breakups."

"They’re getting production from those two linebackers. They have a very big, physical defensive line. Their nose guard is 6-6, 310, their defensive end [Bunmi] Rotimi is 6-4, 280 and he’s making a lot of splash plays behind the line of scrimmage. And this other guy number 98 [Oshane Ximines], he’s making a lot of plays too. And then their free safety has a lot of pass breakups, has good ball skills and a bunch of tackles."

"They’re playing well of defense, minus the game against Western Kentucky. They have to some good athletes and when you look down their roster, all their returning starters on defense, I think they only lost two on defense from last year."

Kugler will bring out the old Pay Dirt Pete UTEP helmet decals for the homecoming game

"Last year we went up there to Virginia and they beat us. Very talented team, very veteran team and they have the right ingredients in the right spots. We’re going to have to play our best to beat them. We’re going to breakout the old school Miner decals and we’re going to try to go old school on this game. The kids always get excited for that, for Homecoming and they’re looking forward to play well in front of the Miner fans.”

UTSA was a big win, but Kugler knows there is still work to do

“It was a great win. But we are 2-5 right now. We’re realistic on where we are at. I think we can build on it, I think the energy and excitement can carry over from week to week. It’s just like in anything, confidence breeds confidence. The kids are very confident after that win. They’re very excited and they really believe in themselves. I believe in them. They’re not going to tank it, not going to quit, they’re going to keep fighting and that game could go a long way. But I can’t answer that until the end of the year if that was a signature win.”

The third quarter trick play infused energy into the team

“Yeah, anytime you get an explosive play like that. It was a great throw by Kavika [Johnson], Walter Dawn probably made half their defense miss and then took it to the house. The excitement on the sideline, I wished you could see the sideline copies from the film, it shows our guys going nuts and jumping up and down. It does create energy."

"I think that energy carried over to both sides of the ball. Saw a lot of great energy on the sidelines. I saw the offense rooting for the defense and vice versa. And at the end of the game, it was an explosion when it was announced that Warren [Redix] secured that catch. Really was proud of the team’s energy. That’s how we have to play and that’s how we have to play all the time. As mentioned last week, that’s the thing that was lacking the most the first part of the season was energy. Energy is created from within, energy is created from competitiveness and I think the players created their own energy by having a great week of practice.”

Kugler explains on how the bye week helped UTEP pull out a win

“We went live most of the time in practice. Especially in areas where we were deficient – like third downs, red zone, we did live periods to simulate the speed and the kids came out and they were energetic about it."

They wanted to go live and they wanted to get physical and it carried over in to the game. We’ll continue to do that and we got to practice smart and as always we don’t want to get a guy injured in practice. But we came out of this game in good health."

UTEP switched up their offensive line makeup during the bye week due to guys being healthy again

“The goal is to rotate those guys. Greg got a little overwhelmed early in the game. That happens when you’re a young player. But again, having two senior, healthy tackles is key. John went in there and played outstanding, Jerome probably had his best game. What it does is give us a strong three-tackle rotation. I feel a lot better about that moving forward”

Metz has been finding Hayden Plink more by design

“Well, we have a lot of things designed for the tight ends, but sure there’s always a connection. You have to have that connection with that guy. You may take one team that has a specific quarterback in there and the same guy is not targeted every time. But you then put in different quarterback in there and they develop a connection. Ryan’s done a good job getting the ball to the tight ends. He does a great job going through his progressions. When he goes through his progressions, he usually makes the right reads and he’s been very accurate with the ball.”

With UTEP students planning a National Anthem protest, Bobby Wilder and ODU bring a circle of unity before every game, will Kugler and UTEP join?

“I’ll talk to Bobby [Wilder] about that. He and I are good friends and from my standpoint, I want to honor the flag of the United States and do whatever we can to show unity. I respect the National Anthem. You’re never going to see me kneel during the National Anthem. I’ll talk to him and see what we can do to show the unified front, but that will be later in the week.”