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Monday Lunch With Kugler

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Sean Kugler talks about moving on from the Army, and the start of C-USA play.

Kugler was still visibly….pissed and apologetic about Saturday's performance

“There’s not a lot to say about that performance that we put out there on Saturday night. I would reiterate to the Miner fans, I’m very embarrassed as a head coach. We had such a great crowd with great energy with a lot of expectations and as a team we didn’t deliver. It was a very humbling experience. I want to apologize to the El Paso fans for our performance. I have been there before as a player and as a coach."

"You’re going to get your tails whipped sometimes and you’re going to get a game that gets out of hand sometimes, and you need to respond to that. The same thing I told the players Sunday in the team meeting, ‘If you get kicked in the groin, the last thing you probably need the next day is a coach coming in and kicking you again.’

"We need to regroup, we need to focus and come together as a team because there’s a lot of season ahead of us. We’ve got the two best teams in Conference USA that we have played the last two years in Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech back-to-back."

Kugler remains optimistic about the C-USA schedule ahead despite playing Southern Miss and LA Tech in back-to-back weeks

"You look across the board, of all the teams in Conference USA play that we play, Southern Miss is the only one with a winning record. There are many teams in the same boat as we are right now trying to figure things out and getting things ready for the season as we get out of non-conference play and into Conference USA play."

He then gave a review of the Army game

“In that game, I can’t list a lot of things that went well. We turned the ball over twice. One resulted in a touchdown on a Walter Dawn fumble on a kickoff return, probably a bad decision taking it out from that deep. And then Kavika [Johnson] had an interception. Both of those resulted in touchdowns. The penalties we had, we had an offsides and two facemask penalties, guys were reaching instead of moving their feet. All three of those resulted in extending drives that ended up in touchdowns."

"We had a hold on offense on a 30-yard run by Aaron Jones that was called back. That drive ended. And we had an intentional grounding that ended a drive. So penalties, even though there were five, all extended or ended drives for us. And against a team like Army, we couldn’t afford to lose one possession."

"They had been very good on third downs and they kept us in an area of third and medium to long that we did not excel. They were 83 percent, 10-for-12. That’s kind of the story of the game. They were in manageable third downs, third and two’s, third and one’s, and we were not."

"We had five drives that ended with punts, and if you count the possession at the end of the game, we had six drives that ended at our own accord. We lost six possessions against a very good ball control team. Not a good formula for us. We had zero first half points and 42 total plays as a result. Hats off to them, they did a great job controlling the football.”

“Defensively, we didn’t get any turnovers. We’re -4 [turnover margin] on the year. At the end of the year, if we look at anything that’s going to tell the story of our season, a trend that we have to change is defensively, we have to get the ball, and offensively we can’t lay the ball on the carpet which we’ve done in the first three games."

"We only had two negative plays, both were by a freshman defensive lineman Gene Hopkins who actually played a very good game. Their fullbacks kind of controlled the situation. Anytime you play a triple option football team, you have to control the fullbacks. Those guys combined for good yardage, yards per carry, and the reason they were in manageable third downs was because of those guys."

“We talked about playing with great eyes in the secondary perimeter because when their run game is humming, you see people turn scot free because people are flirting with their eyes in the backfield. It happened to us a few times. We gave up too many explosive plays as a result. We did not start fast on either side of the ball nor special teams."

"To summarize it all, we got our tails whipped in every phase. Again, that falls on me and I’ll accept full responsibility and if there’s a problem or a game like that, you’ve got to own it. And as a head coach, I’ll own it and also own the fact that we’ve got to move on and be better."

“The top gun for the week for the work he did on special teams was Devin Cockrell. He has also been the overall point getter on special teams this year. He is doing an outstanding job, and Jaquan White did a good job on special teams as well."

“There’s not a lot of positive out of that game. As the head coach, I’ve got to get the team’s focus back, their energy back, their confidence back, because we’ve going to need it quickly with the two teams."

Moving on to a talented Southern Miss. Team

“In my mind they are the best team in Conference USA. They were the Conference USA West champions. They return most of their starters on both sides of the ball. Offensively they are very balanced."

"They are the number one rush offense in Conference USA. They are great on third downs, 43 percent. They are great in the red zone, 71 percent."

"They have only given up three sacks, which is first in Conference USA. Time of possession, [they are] first in Conference USA. Where they have had some issues is fumbles and interceptions. They are -3 in the turnover category, much like we are."

"They have three returning starting offensive linemen and they have an excellent center. It all starts with their quarterback. In the preseason a lot of people were talking about him as the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year. I think the running back is excellent. He is the second-leading rusher in Conference USA behind Aaron Jones. He is a very hard runner, hard charger, he’s got getaway speed. He also has elusiveness and he’s physical. His backup is a good runner as well."

"They have a very tall, athletic group of wide receivers. They have big-play ability, they are running the ball excellent, they have an athletic offensive line, and they are really an outstanding offense."

“Defensively, right now they are number one in Conference USA against the rush. They are first in total yards per game. They have been excellent in third downs, only 18 percent conversion rate. They have been excellent in the red zone, only 50 percent. They are getting after the quarterback, they’ve got some outstanding edge rushers. They’ve got nine sacks which is number one in Conference USA. They have forced four turnovers."

"They have seven returning starters. Up front, they’ve got a guy that plays nose guard and defensive end, extremely athletic. He was honorable mention All-Conference USA last year. He is leading their team in tackles which is kind of unusual for an interior defensive lineman. #32 Xavier Thigpen is extremely long, he leads Conference in tackles for losses. This is a very athletic, probably NFL-ready defensive end that’s a junior."

"They play a hybrid 3-4, 4-3. They play four down looks, they play 3-4 looks, they stem in and out of it, they create a lot of movement and they create a lot of confusion. They’ve got two guys that play that hybrid role, #22 and #85. They have both been very productive for them."

"Their best corner is #3. He leads the team in pass break ups. And they’ve got a safety who is second on the team in tackles. He’s their downhill guy. He’s 6-0, 215, he’s more like a linebacker in there. He is heavily active in the run game."

"They have an outstanding defense and they feed off their offense, they create a lot of havoc, a lot of turnovers. You’ll see some fronts where there’s nobody in a stance. They’ll have all 11 guys up moving around. We call it radar and we’re going to have to be on our screws identification wise."

"What you’re talking about is a great team on offense, defense and special teams. It’s a veteran team. If you look at their two deep, it’s almost exclusively juniors and seniors. They have played together, they have confidence and they are playing with confidence. They beat an SEC team in Kentucky. They beat Savannah State very handily."

"We have got our hands full, but the focus for us has to be on our team and what we need to do to not only fix the issues that we have, but get this game behind us which we need to do quickly. We won’t see a team like that, a triple option team, until we see them again next year. Hopefully we’ll be better prepared for that situation next year.”

Kugler talks about certain things Troy was able to expose against Southern Miss.

“They ran the ball physically. They had a lot of downhill runs. They had a big back that really got after them inside. They took advantage of good field position. They had the ball at the 50 and the 40. We can’t be like we were the last two games. We’ve been in poor field position. It’s all about field position and when you’re playing behind the eight ball, when you start at the 10-yard line or inside the 10 because of a fumble or penalty, those type things will hurt you.”

Kugler then talks about what the Army defense was doing Saturday

“They have been playing outstanding defense. They kind of stymied our run a little bit with a lot of movement, a lot of slanting, and a lot of blitzing on run downs. We had a couple of negative plays early that stopped drives. My hat goes off to Army and I mentioned to their head coach after the game, as crazy as it sounds, we got our tails whipped, but for what they went through that week losing a teammate, I was happy for them. My hat goes off to them. I’ve got a lot of respect for them. I voted them in the top-25. I think they’re that caliber of a team.”

The play of freshman defensive end Gene Hopkins was a positive for the defense moving forward.

“Yeah, but he got injured in that game in the third quarter. He had a very similar injury to Alvin Jones. It’s an ankle. It’s not a long-term thing, it’s not something that’s going to keep him from the season, but I would venture to say he’ll probably be in a starting role. We’re not counting him out for this week, we’re going to try to do everything we can to get him ready. He is a very talented player. He plays hard. I think he’s got a great future for us. He’s a natural defensive end in the 3-4. He has really been coming on the last two games. He has made plays for us.”

The main thing this week is getting back to UTEP's usual formula which has been non-existent the past two weeks.

“We have to, not only for this game but for the entire season. We’ve got to get back to playing UTEP football, being physical in the run game, being in manageable third downs, letting other teams make mistakes. We haven’t been playing UTEP football. We have been making our own mistakes and creating our own problems. Those are problems as a head coach that we have got to fix. I’m committed to doing that, I know the players are committed to doing that. I haven’t lost any belief in any of the players and any of the coaches. We just got our tails whipped. What do you do, do respond, do you curl up in a ball or do you fight back? Well, as a head coach I’m going to fight back and I know the players and coaches are going to do the same thing.”

After every blowout loss the past few seasons, UTEP has been able to bounce back the following weeks, Kugler talks about how those past experiences can be a blue print for the next couple of weeks.

“You can use it for reference and the kids know. They were on those teams that lost to Louisiana Tech [in 2013] and FIU [in 2014]. They are resilient. But right now they’re probably fragile, their confidence is probably down a little bit. Well as a coach, that’s one of the jobs that you’ve got to do. You’re not only a coach, you’re part counselor. You’ve got to get them back to believing in themselves. I don’t think losing your mind or going off on them is the way to do that at this juncture. We’ve got to teach them, we’ve got to coach them and get their confidence back from just playing. That’s the great thing about football. The only way you can erase the stench off a bad loss like that is to get out there and play. We’ve got two great opportunities against two great teams, and that’s the way we’ve got to view it.”

Ryan Metz could be moved up the depth chart this week

“Yeah, Zack [Greenlee] will be our starting quarterback. You’ll see more of Ryan Metz probably as the number two. Kavika [Johnson] will have an extended role in our offense because he’s too valuable of an athlete not to have on the field.”