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Monday Lunch With Kugler

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

Kugler describes Saturday's loss a devastating one

“That was a devastating loss for our team. For the coaches, it was tough to address the team after a loss like that and the fashion that we lost."

"Offensively, in this game, we talked about starting fast. We got stopped in the first series. A holding call attributed to that ending that drive, so we didn’t accomplish that goal. We talked about being efficient on third downs. I think again, third downs have been good to us the last few weeks."

Two areas that offense has drastically improved upon; we talked about catching the catchables and for the second week in a row there were no drops by the skill position receivers, tight ends and fullbacks. We did have one turnover late in the game when Ryan Metz was really just trying to make a play and make something happen; don’t fault him what-so-ever for that."

"We talked about running the ball with a purpose. I felt we accomplished that; we had 237 yards rushing. We were close to six yards a carry and two touchdowns. Where we fell short, was chunk plays, we only had seven, our goal is 10. The games where we had 10-plus, we’ve won the games. And time of possession was just short of our goal."

“Defensively, again, we talked about starting fast. [Florida Atlantic] rumbled down the field, again, aided by a facemask penalty."

It’s kind of interesting, you know you look at the overall statistics, we’re number one in Conference USA in penalties. But if I had to put a statistic in there, it seems our penalties come at the worse times and opportune times."

"We weren’t efficient on third downs; they were 50 percent and red zone touchdowns they were 75 percent, so we fell short of that goal. We did get some turnovers. Brendan Royal and Kolbi McGary both had interceptions and gave the offense a short field that it took advantage of."

"We then got a special teams turnover by Lawrence Montegut. We did not do a good job at stopping the run and trying to make it a one-dimensional game. I thought [FAU’s] freshman back was outstanding; he had an outstanding night against us. But they were 6.8 [average] and three touchdowns for 252 yards. So that’s probably the most disappointing aspect of that game. Too many gap busts in assignment errors, which allowed big creases in the run game and the same in the passing game. They had 14 chunk plays, which is very high. Our goal is to keep less than 10. But defensively, we fell short of some goals and in particular that last drive they had no timeouts, which is discouraging."

He then announced the Top Gun Special Teams Player of the Week, and the Captain of the Week for Rice

“Top Gun for the week was Lawrence Montegut. Again he had a tackle of kickoff cover. He had a tackle inside the five and recovered a punt fumble. And then captain of the week obviously was Aaron Jones. I just want to congratulate him. He’s a young man who became UTEP’s all-time leading rusher. He did it in a big fashion. He was ultra-competitive in that game. He had 27 carries, 229 yards, 8.5 per carry, a long of 49 and two touchdowns. He’s surpassed some damn good running backs on that list to accomplish that. I’m very happy for the young man. Not only is he a great player, more importantly, he’s a great person.”

On Rice

“Moving on to Rice. They won last week; they beat a good Charlotte team, a team that dismantled Southern Miss the week before. Rice went on the road and beat [Charlotte] there and came from behind to do it. They were down 21-3, so they showed a lot of resolve in that game."

Offensively, they’re averaging 24 points a game; rushing the ball they’re averaging 163 yards and they’re passing the ball better than they have in the past, averaging close the 400 yards a game of total offense. They have a running by committee. Dillard was a starter for them last year and he’s an outstanding running back – he’s 215 pounds. They’re using this other running back, Walter, who’s a sophomore and a smaller guy, very compact and very similar to the guy we saw last week. He leads them with a 4.9 average."

"Their quarterback is a big guy. He’s a senior, 6-5, 215 pounds. And he can run the ball well, he’s got close to 300 yards rushing. But he’s thrown for over 2,000 yards. He’s a 61 percent passer and 12 touchdowns with seven interceptions. It seems like we been facing a lot of senior quarterbacks and mobile quarterbacks this year."

“Much along the lines of what we’ve seen in the second half of the season. They got a big receiving corps. Number 17 [Zach Wright] leads the team in receptions with 34 and he’s 6-1, 200 pounds. Number 12 [Temi Alaka] is 6-2 205 pounds, he leads the team in receiving yards with a 15.7 average per catch. And the biggest receiver is a true freshman [Kylen Granson], very talented kid – he’s 6-3, 220. He’s second on the team receptions. They also have a big tight end that has been active for them, he has 22 catches, number 87 [Connor Cella] and he’s 6-3, 260."

“Areas that have been doing extremely well when they get into the red zone, they’ve been scoring red zone touchdowns. They’re third in Conference USA in the red zone. Areas we need to exploit, they have been sacked 27 times, and they have given up the football. They’re 11th in Conference USA in turnovers. They’ve recovered seven fumbles, but have put 19 on the ground. We have to try to convert on some of those."

“Defensively, they’ve struggled a bit this year. Rice is notoriously in the past have been great at stopping the run. They really shored that up in the second half last week against a good running team in Charlotte."

"They’re giving up 38.3 points per game, allowing 216 rushing yards per game, allowing 312 passing yards per game and giving up 528 yards total."

"I think their linebackers are very active. [Alex] Lyons was an all-conference player and is second on the team in tackles. The guy who has really shown up for them this year, is number 58 [Emmanuel] Ellerbee, he leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. He’s a very active guy, very fluid guy, good size – 6-foot, 235 and he’s all over the field and he’s a guy to keep your eye on."

"Their strong safety, [Tabari] McGaskey, they kind of play him down in the box and is more of a linebacker type – a 6-foot, 230-pound senior and an experienced guy who leads their team in tackles for loss. And then this nickel guy, a safety number six [Destri White], he plays a linebacker, hybrid safety type of player. A guy kind of like VanHook for us. He’s 6-1, 215 and he’s third on team in tackles. Probably the most active guy up front in number 90 [Blain] Padgett, he’s probably been their most productive lineman as far as tackles for loss."

Kugler always gives David Baliff and Rice the ultimate respect

“Rice has always been a well-coached team. David Bailiff does an outstanding job there. They’re always going to give extreme effort and this is their senior day at home and will be their senior’s last opportunity. I know what that means to the players, so we’re going to have to go and play our best to beat them."

While most of the season has been negative, Kugler talked about positive improvements in the second half of the season

"I know it’s every else’s job to point out the negatives; as a head coach by job is to find the positives and try to build on that."

"Offensively, since midpoint of season, and I talked about this to the staff this morning. At the midpoint of the season we were averaging 16 points a game. Since the midpoint of the season and there’s not magic formula to that, I think a lot of that has to do with the insertion of Ryan Metz as our starting quarterback."

"We’re now averaging 36.5 points per game and rushing has gone from 153 to 220. The average went from 4.8 to 5.6. The semblance of our passing game with our running game has really assisted with that. The passing game has gone up by over 20 yards. Overall, total yards have gone up 100 yards, damn near 330 to 415. Third down have drastically improved – 37 percent to 42 percent. And red zone touchdowns – 60 percent to 77 percent."

"We’ve been sacked less, 12-7. And time of possession has increased by three minutes. Really I’m starting to see that the offense is coming together. There’s been a lot of changes in personnel and in particular starting with the quarterback, the offensive line, we’ve been solidifying that group. And getting the right five out there. And I really feel offensively, we’ve taken drastic steps since the midpoint of the season moving on towards the end of the season."

“There’s two games left to continue to keep working on improving things. Defensively, we’ve improved in eight of nine categories."

"Again, after tough loss like that it’s hard to talk about things like that, but points per game have almost gone down a touchdown, rushing yards have gone down, passing yards is the same, total yards have drastically gone down, we’ve improved in third downs, red zone has been about the same, we’ve improved in sacks, quarterback’s hits and disruptive plays."

The improvements came later than most expected, but Kugler will keep working

"Again, I’m looking for improvements and I’ll be the first to acknowledge; it probably took a lot longer than fans would’ve hoped and that I would’ve hoped. Grasping two new systems, but I really do feel that the kids are catching on and they’re understanding the system."

"They’re playing for each other. And I know this, I’m not going to stand across the field and wave a white towel because we didn’t make a bowl game. We’ve got two games left and we’re going to go out and compete our best to win those two games and I know our kids will to. They’re very disappointed much like I am myself that we won’t be going to a bowl game, but this is football and there’s two games left and we want to go out and win those last two games to build momentum heading into next year.”

Kugler explains the third-and-four play when UTEP opted to run the jet sweep veer

“There’s always thoughts to get the ball in our best player’s hands. There are calls predicated on what they give you defensively and what they have tendency wise to. Even the last play where Walter [Dawn] got hit for a tackle for loss. I thought it was a good call, I think it just wasn’t executed well. If we would’ve pulled that, we would’ve gotten the first down with ease. The play before, Aaron was a little gassed. He had to come out for a play after running for that big run. Quadraiz Wadley had a nice run and if a block is sustained, that one probably goes for 20 yards. Again, it’s easy to second guess calls after a game. But I really feel if those were executed properly, they would’ve worked and we’d be sitting here in good shape.”

Kugs was asked how the late season improvement can carry over to next season

“I don’t feel uncomfortable with the system; I don’t feel uncomfortable with the coaches. I think we have the right coaches in place. I think we have the right system in place."

"I do acknowledge, especially defensively, you know switching from a 4-2-5 to a 3-4, you put yourself in a bind personnel wise. We don’t have 30 linebackers on our roster, so that’s our job to go out and recruit those type players who fit that system."

"But I really feel strongly about our secondary and where our young defensive linemen are going, guys like Denzel [Chukwukelu], big Chris Richardson – these are 300-pound guys who are producing the more they play."

"Offensively, I think it really took a lot to identify which personnel best fits in this system. I believe it all starts upfront and we did struggle the first half of the year. I think we have the right combinations in there now. Inserting Greg Long into the lineup and bringing athleticism in there. And then were getting the ball to our tight end more. But I can point to one thing offensively, I think really with the insertion of Ryan Metz, it’s brought leadership, it’s brought energy, he’s efficient, he’s such a competitor and he’s taken over this team. This is his team for the future.”

Rice has tried out a new spread system this season

“We see a lot of spread throughout the year. It seems like every team we play has some sort of aspects of that in their offense. Again, Rice has always been a well-coached team on both side of the ball. But they want to possess the football, they want to run the ball first. They’re passing the ball better than they have in the past. I think their quarterback has a lot to do with that.”