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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

Kugler opens up as always with a review of the previous game

“Summarizing that game against LA Tech, I felt they were a very good football team going into the game and they are. Offensively we did want to control the clock with efficient drives. I think we had efficient drives, we did not cash in with points in the red zone."

Many of our drives, five actually, were ended by penalties, four of those five on third downs that were converted, two of those for very big gains. Holding calls, a chop block and false starts all contributed to drives ending for us offensively. Time of possession was in our favor, it was a goal going into the game. Thirty-five minutes is our goal each game, we held it for 35, 36. But again, we were only 1-for-2 in red zone scoring. We fumbled the snap exchange on the second short and goal play."

“We wanted to be in manageable third downs. I thought Ryan Metz did an outstanding job all game on third downs. We were 8-of-14, 57 percent, our goal is 45 percent. There were actually three more conversions that were taken away by penalties. We were in manageable third downs with running the ball efficiently and Ryan making good decisions on third downs."

Holding penalties were frustrating all the way around

"But the thing that killed us were penalties. We lost over 100 yards of offense in penalties, all of those being in critical situations, all of those preventable by moving your feet. And as you look at the film, they were holding calls, guys not moving their feet, guys not letting go at the proper time, not feeling pressure. And then we had a chop block which was probably more of a young kid making a mistake."

"Whenever anybody is extended on offense, even if it’s reaching out with a hand, if you go low, they’re going to call a chop block. You don’t even have to get the guy in a chop position. Really on that, all he had to do was carry out his fake, it was really a non-significant factor in the play. But they saw it and they called it. And then the false starts are inexcusable."

Turnovers continue to be a weekly issue

"Turnovers, we had the interception, the ball kind of sailed on Ryan. He made the right decision, had a guy open, it just kind of sailed on him and their guy made a heck of a play. And we had the fumble exchange which is inexcusable down at the goal line. It puts us at -6 on the year [turnover margin]. The number one thing that we need to correct moving forward if we’re going to have a successful year is turnovers and penalties, things that we’re emphasizing heavily as a staff.

The positive? UTEP finally put together some explosive offensive plays

“Explosive plays, we had a goal of 10 in the game, five run and one pass. We ended up with five explosive passes, one to [Hayden] Plinke, two to [Eddie] Sinegal, one to [Terry] Juniel and one to [Cole] Freytag. Eddie Sinegal had a 100-yard receiving game, it was good to see him get involved. It was good to see the tight ends get involved with 10 total catches. Plinke had an outstanding game and probably could’ve had another 30 yards, he had a concentration drop on one and had another called back by a penalty. We had three explosive runs, all by Metz.

Aaron Jones was limited with his ankle injury, but gained 90-plus physical yards against LA Tech

"I thought Aaron Jones ran extremely hard but it wasn’t a typical Aaron Jones game. You could see he didn’t have quite the juice breaking off of tackles, doing things in open space. But it was really one of his better games from a physical standpoint. He just ran hard and gave everything he had playing on that injured ankle."

Kugler then breaks down the defensive performance against LA Tech

“Defensively, we had no penalties that extended drives. That was a positive."

"We did not have any sacks and we had three in our sights. We showed them to the team yesterday … three sacks that were missed. We can’t miss opportunities on sacks. And then we had tackles for losses only from [Nick] Usher and [Nik] Needham. We have to play in the other team’s backfield. We have to start producing negative plays."

"We produced no turnovers but we had our hands on the ball three different times -- twice by Justin Rogers, once by Dashone Smith. And then we had a fumble forced by Mad Dog [Brian Madunezim] that we didn’t end up on. So four opportunities to force turnovers that we didn’t come up with. Again, that’s why we’re -6 on the year."

"We held them to 217 yards under their passing total. I thought minus the first two drives the defense really settled in and took away their screen game. And they have an outstanding screen game, the quick screens, the tunnel screens, the jail breaks. They were pursuing, they were being physical getting off the blocks, and we really kind of took that away from them."

Defense played well for the most part, but stopping the run in the fourth quarter was brought up

“The thing that was disappointing was the fourth quarter versus the run. The offense had just scored to make it 14-7 and at that point, that’s when we’ve got to start feeding off each other. The game was completely in the balance to go either way and they popped a 70-yard run versus an all-out blitz"

We had a defender that should’ve come underneath and been ready for that and it didn’t work out that way. The disheartening thing was they only had 63 yards rushing heading into the fourth quarter. We had stopped them pretty cold in the run game and they ended up with 133 yards in the fourth quarter. That cannot happen for us to move forward and get better."

Kugler touches on the main improvement marks for practice this week

“Things that we need to rectify and we’re working hard at, point production on offense although I think offensively we took some steps in that game. Penalties, as a team, and more so holding penalties. When it’s the same things over and over, you have to look at a few things. You have to look at scheme, you have to look at personnel and you have to look at how you’re drilling it. And we’ll look at all three. And ultimately it’s turnovers. When you’re sitting at -6 almost at the halfway point with a lot of season left in front of you, you have to really attack and ball security is something we need to correct.”

Moving onto FIU

“They got their first win last week in a heated rival game against FAU. They have played some outstanding teams. Their four losses are to Maryland, who’s undefeated, Indiana who beat Michigan State last week, UMass who took an SEC team down to the wire, and then Central Florida who has always had a solid football program. This is a good football team that handled us last year down there. They are fighting the same formula that we are right now. They are -6 in turnovers. That’s reflected in their record. It’s why they’re 1-4 and we’re 1-4."

“Offensively, their quarterback had an outstanding game against us last year. He has got off to a little slow start this year, five interceptions versus two touchdowns. But this guy can also pull down the ball on his own reads. He is a threat to run it, he’s got two rushing touchdowns. Their #1 guy is the running back Alex Gardner. This guy leads their team in all-purpose yards and rushing. He is also their second-leading receiver. He accounts for almost half of their offensive production."

"They’ve got an outstanding center, in fact I think they have a very athletic offensive line. All of their guys started games for them last year but their center was second team All-Conference USA."

"They’ve got an outstanding tight end, an NFL receiving tight end. He has been their leading receiver now for a few years. He’s a big target at 235 pounds. They can spread him out, he can line up as a wide receiver and catch balls, he can also do it from the tight end position. They have two freshmen receivers that have been very productive for them. "

“They have a very athletic defense. They have the #2 and #3 tackler in Conference USA in their linebackers. They are two outstanding linebackers, both about the same size. They can really run. They’ve got a safety who’s a hard-hitter who’s third on the team in tackles. And then they have an undersized defensive end that really has great get off and has been causing a lot of teams disruption in the passing game. He has great get off and we’ve got to be really on our screws as far as handling that."

On Ryan Metz's health

“As far as Ryan Metz, I don’t know his availability. He took quite a shot in that game. Right now he’s in concussion protocol. It all depends on how he’s feeling tomorrow and he’s going to visit with the doctors. I don’t know his availability as of yet.”

The box scores and stats may not reflect it, but UTEP's defense has been somewhat respectable this season

“I think our defense has been improving. Really in the second and third quarter of that game they had Louisiana Tech’s number. They weren’t generating any offense. But we’ve got to start faster. They kind of ease into the game and then they pick it up. We were down 14-0. And that has to do with the offense as well. The thing that disappointed me and coach [Tom] Mason in that game was the fourth quarter. Run game, had some guys out of gaps, those type things. But again, we have a young defense. I think they’re improving weekly and I think they have a chance to be a very good defense. The kids are working very hard at it.”

Kugler then breaks down the offensive line struggles

“We have had some issues at certain positions. We probably will make some personnel moves there. You are always trying to get your best five out there. I feel very strongly about three guys who are playing extremely well. There are probably one or two guys that haven’t played up to their expectations or what we expected from them. There will probably be a few personnel changes in there. You don’t like to do moving parts when it comes to the offensive line, but if it’s going to help us produce better, we will certainly do that. I’m not disappointed with them as a group, but certainly there are many things that we can improve upon.”

He then talks about correcting the numerous holding penalties.

“Holding, if it’s properly called, it’s usually a guy that’s out of position. The hands in the wrong spot, your feet are in the wrong spot, you’re not running your feet and the defender is trying to get off and here’s what the ref sees. He sees you in this off position with your hands extended."

"We need to do a better job of running our feet, squaring up on our blocks, keeping our hands inside and then when the defenders do try to release, at some point you have to let them go. Especially if it’s away from the play. That’s the thing that’s been driving me nuts. Most of these holding calls have been far, far, far away from the play. There’s no need to do that. It’s something we’ll continue to coach and continue to emphasize and try to get better at because we have to.”

Kugler goes into detail on Aaron Jones playing hurt

“I saw a lot of plays where he ordinarily would’ve broke that run or bounced off that tackle. That was a really gutsy performance by Aaron because he did get hobbled early in the game. He probably had to re-tape his ankle about six times. But he kept coming back and kept wanting to play. We got Quadraiz [Wadley] in there a little bit, which we’ll have to do, we have to continue to take care carries off of Aaron Jones. We’re going to try to get Darrin Laufasa involved a little bit. When your best player comes up to you and says he’s ready to roll, and he goes out there and you see how he’s competing, he was getting five, six yards a carry. But it was him running over tacklers. He couldn’t just make the second defender miss which he normally does. To me, that was one of the more impressive performances that he has ever had because it really was all guts.”

The important question, how does UTEP turn things around?

“I haven’t lost any confidence in this team. In fact, I really enjoy coaching this team. They’ve got my back 100 percent and I’ve got their back 100 percent. We’re just going to roll up our sleeves and work. I would ask that the Miner fans, who we love, we’ve got great fans, they come and support us. I think we’re number one or number two in Conference USA in attendance. We’re hoping that they come out and support us in full force and I hope they keep backing the team and I hope they keep fighting for our team, because I know our kids are going to go out and fight for them.”

Freshman corner Justin Rogers has been solid the past two weeks with extended playing time

“Justin is really doing a good job. I think it gives us three quality corners when Kalon [Beverly] comes back. Kalon is still injured. It wasn’t a situation where he beat out Kalon, but since he has been in there his play has been quality. He’s a competitor. He fights for balls, he’s getting some pass breakups. He’s even had his hands on a few balls. You’d like to see that turn to interceptions. That will come. He has stripped some fumbles and he has made some nice tackles. I have been very pleased with Justin Rogers as a true freshman going out there and competing against some really good receivers the last few weeks.”

How does the UTEP create more havoc for opposing offenses?

“There are different things we’ve got to do. Number one, you’ve got to get off blocks. Number two, when the plays are presented to you, we missed three sacks with the quarterback in our sights. I’m talking within a step, within a grasp, we have to hit home on those plays."

"We’ve got to finish plays and schematically I know coach Mason does a great job of getting everybody in the right gaps. When guys are in the right gaps, they’ve got to fit in and make the plays properly. That’s the best formula for creating negative plays. Sometimes negative plays are created by the offense too if they have assignment errors or somebody does the wrong thing. But defensively, it’s just doing your job and winning your one-on-one battles.”