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Monday Lunch With Kugler

Your weekly recap and quotes from Sean Kugler’s weekly media luncheon.

Kugler opened with a quick recap of camp, and the recent Fan Day at the Sun Bowl.

“We’re kicking off our 100th season as a UTEP football program. We’re very excited about the season, the entire process of it. We just finished a great camp up in Ruidoso. We came back and got the finishing touches done here and broke camp this past Saturday. We had a great Saturday with the fans. We had a fan appreciation day where our players got to interact with the fans and it was exciting for both parties. The players had Saturday evening off and we started yesterday with our normal game week preparations.”

Oklahoma is pretty stacked all around, and Kugler broke down how good this playoff contender is.

“We’re playing an outstanding team and an outstanding program. They are loaded on both sides of the ball, in particular offense. I feel like they have probably the best returning quarterback in the country. He is one of the leading Heisman candidates. This guy is a 71 completion percentage quarterback. He threw for close to 4,000 yards, but his efficiency is what sets him apart with 40 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. So he makes great decisions with the ball. He can hurt you multiple ways, he can scramble, he can make plays with his legs. He had six touchdowns rushing last year.”

“I think they’re got one of the best tight ends in the country in Mark Andrews. This guy is a great route runner, but he’s a complete tight end and those are rare to find nowadays. He can block, he had close to 500 yards receiving and was close to a 16-yard average for a tight end. That’s outstanding. He had seven touchdowns. He was their fourth-leading receiver last year.”

“I feel they have the best offensive line in the country. They have all of their returning starters. I’ve never heard of this before, but every single one of their starters were named at least honorable mention All-Big 12. So they’ve got five All-Conference players coming back.“

“The top dog is the left tackle, Orlando Brown Jr. He is 6-8, 345 pounds. He’ll probably be the number one tackle picked in next year’s draft. This guy is long and athletic and if you remember, his father Zeus Brown played for the Browns and the Ravens.”

“They do have a grad transfer wide receiver that came from Kentucky named [Jeff] Badet, 6-1, 180. This guy was Kentucky’s leading receiver last year and had a 21.6-yard average. So I can see why they brought him on board, this is an explosive receiver. They’re going to have athletes at all positions on offense.”

“They’re very balanced, 236 yards rushing and 318 yards passing. They take care of the football extremely well. They are even in turnovers with only eight interceptions as I mentioned, and only nine fumbles on the year last year. Here is where they were good, 51 percent on third downs, that would usually lead any conference.”

‘Defensively, they are going through a little transition as far as what they’re presenting. They were a three down team last year. They have talked about making the transition into some four down looks. I would anticipate that we’ll see both from their defense, and they have the personnel to transition into both defenses.”

“For them it all starts with their safety, Steven Parker. He was their fifth-leading tackler last year. This guy is a playmaker, he makes interceptions, he had two interceptions last year. He is a force in the run game, a very physical and talented safety.”

Emmanuel Beal, the linebacker was their second-leading tackler, he had 81 tackles last year. He also gets after the quarterback with seven quarterback hits. He leads them in the middle.”

“The guy that makes splash plays for them is #31 Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. He is 6-1, 245 pounds, he is kind of that guy that can transition them from a 3-4 to a four down. He is very athletic. He had 12 tackles for losses, nine sacks, 10 quarterback hits. He led their defense in every category last year. He’s a guy that we’re going to have to slow down up front to get a chance to be efficient in the passing game.”

Oklahoma has a new head coach, and Kugler thinks Bob Stoops’ replacement Lincoln Riley has made good moves so far.

“I don’t know him. I know he is an outstanding coach. I know he has always had outstanding production as an offensive coordinator. I think it was pretty cool that he brought Ruffin McNeill back with him and paid back to a guy who gave him an opportunity. I think that’s special, I think that’s what coaching is all about. I don’t know him personally, but I know he’s an outstanding coach.”

Kugler then explains what he is looking to get out of Saturday’s tilt.

“I want to see my team compete and I want to see guys collectively one-by-one try to win the one-on-one battles. And the more guys that we have win the one-on-one battles, the better chance we have to compete, the better chance we have to keep the game close. And when you keep the game close against an opponent like that, you have an opportunity.”

“If you don’t keep the game close with errors, pre-snap penalties, we can’t beat ourselves, we can’t go out and have pre-snap penalties. We can’t drop balls. We can’t turn the ball over. And we’re going to have to steal possessions from these guys, whether it’s us running the ball efficiently and dragging out series and try to gain two possessions with possession time or gaining the ball on defense with one, two or three turnovers and gaining possessions that way.”

“If you give Oklahoma extra possessions, they’re going to make you pay because they have the talent to do that. But that’s our main goal as a team, to steal possessions. But I’m concerned about the competition of our team winning the one-on-one battles, seeing our guys compete for a full 60 minutes.”

As he usually does, Kugler keeps it real on what it is.

“I’m realistic when it comes to this game. I’m not a fool. We’re 45-point underdogs. But I’m also realistic with what type of team we have and I know these kids are going to go out and compete their tails off.”

Kugler then explained the running back rotation will be balanced in this first game of the post-Aaron Jones era.

“I think in this particular game, it’s going to be pretty balanced. You’re hoping somebody sets himself apart. I think you’re going to see more tailback by committee. But I like the group, I like the talent, you’ll see all three of those guys, you’ll even see Ronald Awatt as well.”

Quadraiz Wadely will be back at one point this season.

“We’re going to gain back Quardraiz Wadley at some point very early in the season. That’s good news for us because we were not anticipating that. The kid has worked his tail off to get back healthy. We’re anticipating getting him sometime around October.”

UTEP’s defensive line was a camp surprise, but going up against the top offensive line in the country will be a legit test.

“Production. I think we have really upgraded our athleticism and size there. I think if you look at the two-deep, you’re going to see some names missing. Our entire starting defensive line [from 2016] didn’t even crack the two deep. That just shows you that these guys have some talent.”

“These guys have developed, and again it takes time. Some of these guys had to sit out, some of them had to sit out academically. Some of them had to be developed for a few years.”

“Our defensive line, we’re not rolling out there with 230 or 240 pound guys. We’re rolling out there with guys who are 275 pounds or better, and it gives you a better chance to compete, not only against a team like Oklahoma but especially when you get into Conference USA play.”

UTEP will be without just two players for the season opener this weekend due to injuries.

“Hopefully we’ll remain healthy this week, we’ll pull off as we get towards the end of the week. The only two players that will not be participating in this game, and we are not even bringing them on the trip, are Jayson VanHook and Quardraiz Wadley. We’re hoping to get Jayson back by Rice or Arizona, and we’re hoping to get Quardraiz back around the beginning of October. The rest of the team is healthy and they will be ready to go.”

Ryan Metz will make is first start against a Power 5 opponent on the road, but is mature enough to handle it all according to Kugler.

“Ryan has been a product of the program. He has matured. You’ve seen it. At my fault, the guy was out there too early. But it was out of necessity. We didn’t have any other options.”

Ryan Metz shows maturity. The thing that I see from Ryan is maturity in the pocket. He used to get a little jitter feet and scramble when he really didn’t have to. He doesn’t do that anymore. He makes good decisions with the football. He’s a very accurate passer.”

“The biggest step that he has made is gaining the trust of his teammates with his leadership. You cannot help but like Ryan Metz. He is that genuine of a person. Our team sees that and they rally around him. They love the guy.”

Kugler touched on his expectations for the 2017 season.

“Number one, I’m not going to give you a count of victories. And no disrespect to anybody here, I respect all of you guys, but I really don’t care what the media thinks. All I care about is the 105 guys that are in that room and at the end of the year, if we’re standing there in a bowl game, then we will accomplish our goal.”

One of the best stories from camp is the resurgence of Derek Elmendorff, Kugler explained what has happened.

Derek Elmendorff is another one (who improved). He’s a great story, he is a guy that was benched because he had weight issues and he was injured. He wasn’t giving us the production that we needed and he kind of made a life’s choice that he was going to change his body, he was going to change his mentality, and instead of going the other way and blaming everybody else he blamed himself.”

“He had a great camp so I’m looking forward to him starting. I’m proud of that kid for where he has taken his career. He took it by the horns and did it himself.”

Kugler also revealed the freshman who will travel for the season opener

“We’re taking a couple of guys for depth purposes, really more for special teams. But the guys that you’ll see the most are Trace Mascorro, Forest McKee, Keith Sullivan and Joseph Pickney. Those are the four freshmen that will be out there and have a role on our team.”