It's been a tough start to the season for the LA Tech Bulldogs and Skip Holtz despite a daunting early schedule, but a return home could ignite the battle tested Bulldogs this week.
Playing three of their first four on the road, Holtz talks about regrouping after a 1-3 start, finally playing at home, and what a "physical UTEP" team brings in his weekly meet with the media.
Holtz on the loss to Middle Tennessee
“Going back to Middle Tennessee, it was a disappointing loss last week on the road in a conference game, especially when you have a 20-point lead in the second half. It was frustrating to lose a game like that. When you go back and look at it, defensively we did not play very well. We have a lot of new faces on the defense and a lot of new additions. We have talent over there, but we are certainly not playing to our capabilities as a defensive football team. I do not think we are playing as physical as we need to be. I do not think we are playing as hard as we need to play as a defensive football team. I think we are a work in progress. Right now, we have some room for improvement for sure."
“I felt like it was a tale of two halves. In the first half, I thought we played decently defensively. It was 20-7 at halftime and they come out and score 31 unanswered points. The frustrating part is that our special teams are not putting our defense in bad field position. Most of the time, they are driving the length of the field. We had ten explosive plays against us of over 20 yards. That is way too many. As a defensive we not only have to look at what we are doing, as coaches are we putting our players in a position to succeed, but also at who you are doing it with and if you are getting the type of performances you need out of the players you are playing. We have look at some things hard, with where we are now as a defensive football team, to make the strides we need to make."
LA Tech saw some high level production from a number of offensive players against Middle Tennessee
“Offensively, I think some players had some great individual efforts. I think Jarred Craft just shows up and plays every week. He protects the football, catches the ball and knows what to do. I thought he was very good in pass protection. Trent Taylor has a 17 catch day for 210 yards. I do not know how many records he set with that or what he did from a school standpoint. It was just an unbelievable individual performance. Ryan Higgins throws for 500 yards and does not have an interception. He has not thrown an interception in ten quarters. He did not throw one at Texas Tech and did not throw one this week. You have to go back to the last play before halftime at South Carolina State. Rhashid Bonnette, a redshirt freshman, stepped in for an injured Carlos Henderson and in his first real playing experience, did an outstanding job. He is a very talented young man who has a bright future. Even with that being said, this is not about individual accolades. It is about the win and I think any of those players would give away those statistics gladly for a win."
It seems like this week is a make or break week for the 1-3 Bulldogs according to Holtz
Like someone said, we are 1-3 and we are two plays from being 3-1, but it does not matter. At the end of the day, we are 1-3. It is not about how close we have been, but it is about what we have been able to get done. I think we have two approaches here. We can look at it as winners, or we can look at it as losers. Losers are going to point fingers. They are going to find blame. They are going to look at excuses and all of the reasons why. They are going to quit. They are going to throw up their arms. Or, we are going to roll up our sleeves, compete, look at what we have to do to get better and make the decision that we want to be a damn good football team. In order to do that, we are going to have to go back to the practice field and we are going to have to get some things straight and evaluate what we are doing as a football team right now. We have to figure out what we need to do to put a winning product out on that football field. To this point, we have not done it. It is not time to flinch. You don’t want to panic. It is not completely broken. We are close to what we want to get done, but we have to keep pushing until we can taste that win again on the field.”
On finally getting to play a home game after a tough schedule to start the season
“This week we get an opportunity to come home. We are one of only five football teams in the country to play three of their first four games on the road. I think everyone is excited to have a chance to come back home and play in front of our home crowd, families and friend. We don’t have to travel and return at two in the morning. We have another conference game coming up. The thing about football is that you play again this week. We do not have a lot of time to sit around and lick your wounds.”
"We have got UTEP this week. Sean Kugler has done a really good job there. They are a physical football team, one of the more physical football teams that we have played. Their offensive line is very big. Sean was an offensive lineman and his football team portrays that. They are going to find a way to run the ball. They are going to play five or six linemen with two tight ends. They are going to get big. They are going to maul you and hit you in the mouth. They are going to play a physical brand of football. We are going to have to change our mindset if we have any desire to be successful as a defensive football team against this high-powered explosive rushing attack we are about to play this week.”
On Aaron Jones
"As an offense they have the number three rusher in the entire country in Aaron Jones. He is explosive. He is averaging 150 yards per game. He was an all-conference player two years ago before he got injured. He is definitely the best tailback that we have gone against. He is averaging 7.5 yards per carry. He is one of the better running backs in the entire country. I think he is an explosive player."
Holtz is impressed with UTEP's defense and special teams
“Defensively, this is a football team that held us to 17 points last year. We won 17-15. They control the ball on offense and are going to limit your number of reps. We only had 50 snaps last year. We had 96, two days ago. They run the ball and control it. They are a lot like an option attack. They held Southern Miss last week to 140 yards below their season average. They are a physical bunch. They are not very complicated. They line up, play their gap and play physical. Their linebackers and safeties are very active. They are really good football players.”
“Their special teams has a very dangerous punt returner, who is third in our league averaging 12 yards a punt return. Their kicker has 12-of-14 touchbacks. He is not going to give you a lot of opportunities for touches.”
On LA Tech's approach to this week
"We have to look hard at what we are doing as a football team. We have to look at who we are doing it with. As coaches we have to make sure we are giving our players the best chance to be successful. We have to demand that we play to a standard we are accustom to playing around here. I cannot sit here and say we did that on Saturday. We just have to get ready to play this week. We have to take a winners approach. We have to learn to compete this week and get better with what we are doing. We are a work in progress. We are one third of the way through. We are four games in and we are not where we want to be, but we are not far off. We have to keep working to get to where we want to be.”