Kugler opens his weekly presser with a review of the Arizona game.
“Starting with special teams, Alan Luna has been punting well for us all year. He had a 43.7-yard average in this game, he had a 53-yarder. We did have a punt return for a touchdown, we had some missed tackles on that punt return to put our defense in a tough bind. But on the punt team Jesse Montgomery, a backup corner for us, had two solo tackles. He had an outstanding solo tackle. He earned the Top Gun Award for outstanding special teams player for this game.”
“I thought the defense came out and started playing extremely well. We held them to zero first quarter points and then they were put into three really tough positions. There was a fumble on the short side of the field that resulted in points. There was an interception that could’ve easily been avoided that turned into a huge play for Arizona where they got the ball at the two-yard line which turned into points. The offense went three and out and that’s when the punt return happened. So you’re looking at a 7-0 game that quickly avalanched into a 28-0 game. From that point, I felt like the defense was on the field too long. That was evident by the time of possession, 36 minutes to 23. But not more evident than in the fourth quarter, 12 minutes and 33 seconds where Arizona held the ball. So I think our defense, a little outmanned numbers wise, really wore down at that point. And again, we cannot leave our defense on the field for that long of time, 36 minutes per game.”
“The quarterback was very effective for them. I think he’s an outstanding player. He had three touchdowns and accumulated 143 yards. But they ran the ball too efficiently on us, later in the game even more so. We only gained one turnover, which was a fumble recovery by Joseph Pickney who is a young man I have high hopes for defensively. I know the coaches do. He plays with a lot of energy, he had some outstanding hits at the end of the game. He’ll get more playing time as we go. We had two sacks in the game, both by Alvin Jones. Even though the score did not favor us, Alvin Jones had an outstanding game. It was really his first full game, if you remember he missed half of the Oklahoma game and half the Rice game. He had 16 tackles, two sacks and a tackle for loss. That’s the type of production that we expect from Alvin week in and week out and he came through on that.”
“Offensively, there are a lot of things that need correcting. The inability to run the football, and we only had nine carries by our running backs. That will never happen again. We only had 14 attempts all around with 1.2 per carry. So we’re not running the ball efficiently. For the third consecutive week, we lost the turnover battle. We lost a fumble that resulted in points and we had an interception on a screen that could’ve easily been thrown into the ground that resulted in points. Both those occurred when the game was still in the balance. It was 28-7, we had the ball inside the 50 and it snowballed with the score. We were only 46 percent completion percentage at the quarterback position as a whole. We had only 218 total yards, it’s the third straight week we’re under 250 yards. We can’t keep going in that direction. Only 4.1 yards per play, and when you look at an offense’s explosiveness, anything over six is good. Anything over seven is explosive. Under five is unacceptable. We have been less than four for the year. Only 2-of-12 third down conversions. And again multiple drops on third downs, we had three. So for the third consecutive week we lost time of possession in a big way.
Kugler addressed the offensive coordinator situation
“This team is built on controlling the ball, time of possession, taking care of the football, being efficient on third downs and running the football with efficiency to set up play action passes. None of this is how we want to play offense here at UTEP. So I had to make the difficult decision to move on. I have changed coordinators. I have relieved Brent Pease of his duties as offensive coordinator. That will fall in the hands of Brian Natkin.
“And I will say this, there is not a more trusted member on my staff, a more trusted member that is loyal to this university and loyal to turning this thing around for the players’ sake. We could not continue to head in that direction. I will say this, all of that falls on me. But I felt it was necessary to make a change to move forward. There is a lot of season left. As a head coach, it’s my responsibility to make sure that these kids have a chance to be successful and that’s why I made the difficult decision to move on. Brian Natkin will be the offensive coordinator. He’ll call the plays.”
“Chuck Veliz will work with the quarterbacks. And to take special teams off of Brian Natkin’s plate, Don Yanowsky who is the assistant special teams coordinator will be the full-time special teams coordinator. He has been a coordinator in Canada, he has been a coordinator in several different places. He’ll do an outstanding job with the special teams. Brian will continue to work with the tight ends and wide receivers and get assisted help throughout the staff on that. But I really felt, there’s too much talent at all positions to be as effective as we have been on offense, and there needed to be a change and I had to make that difficult decision.”
Looking at the NMSU Aggies
“I think this is an outstanding football team. I think they are well coached. I think coach Martin does an outstanding job. This is a very experienced and talented offensive group. The quarterback, it seems like he has been playing against us for four years straight because he has. He is having a great year, 67 completion percentage, over 1,110 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. This guy has played outstanding football for them.”
“You know what I think about Larry Rose. I think he will be the best running back that we face all year. I think this guy’s shifty, I think he’s got long speed. He runs hard between the tackles. This is an outstanding running back, I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He leads their team in rushing and he is also their second-leading receiver.”
“They have an explosive receiving corps. These guys are experienced. Jaleel Scott, he has been their go-to guy this year. I can see why. He has great size and length, 6-6 and 215 pounds. He is making plays all over the field, he is their leading receiver and he also has four touchdowns on the year. He has accounted for 100 yards a game himself. This Izaiah Lottie is a very competitive, explosive receiver. He leads them in big plays, he leads their team in touchdowns with four with a long of 81. And he is also bringing in 65 yards receiving per game. They have a very solid offensive line, their left tackle is probably going to be a future pro guy. He is extremely huge, 6-7, 343, but he has got balance and pro-type ability. The things that stand out to me on offense, they are averaging 477 yards per game, 6.1 per play, but they have been great on third downs, close to 50 percent on third downs, and they have been great in the red zone, 86 percent red zone touchdowns. So they are very efficient, they are averaging 28.3 points per game.”
“Where I think they have made the biggest jump is defensively. This is a very athletic, fast defense. Again, they are experienced. A lot of these linebackers have been starting for them for four years and are now seniors.”
“They use a lot of multiple fronts. They are never sitting in one spot, they are always on the move. A lot of stunts, a lot of fire zones, a lot of twists. These guys are really playing hard on defense and flying around to the football. It all starts with Dalton Herrington, the captain. He leads their team in tackles, tackles for losses and sacks. He has also got some good quarterback hits. You can see that he is a leader on film, he is getting guys lined up, he is a relentless football player. I really like the way he plays.”
“Terrill Hanks, I have always had a lot of respect for him. This guy can really fly, he is an outside linebacker and one of the fastest guys on their defense. He is their second leading tackler. The defensive end has been their splash player as far as up front, #11 Malik Demby. He rotates in there with some other guys but he is second on the team in tackles for losses and sacks. He has got a fumble recovery and he is also very active, he is their third leading tackler. They have a safety #23 who leads their team in interceptions. He is fourth on their team in tackles. But also, I think they’re going to gain back Jaden Wright. He has been out the initial part of the year.”
“This is a rivalry game. I think this team right now, and I’m going to be very honest about it, the team that we’re playing right now is probably a better team than we are right now, the way that we have been performing. We need to work our tails off to be a better team on Saturday night.”
The big question is how much different, at all, will the offense look under Brian Natkin.
“It needs to be different from the standpoint of being effective and running the ball with efficiency. It needs to be different from the standpoint of being in manageable third downs. The two things that stand out to me, time of possession we have been tops or near the top in time of possession in our conference for the last four years, which allows us to play quality defense because we are rested.”
“We can’t be sitting there at 23 minutes. We are giving up five to six possessions a game. And there are a lot of things that go into that. There have been mistakes, dropped balls, those types of things. But again, the style of play that we want, I think Brian has a very sound understanding of that.“
“He also understands these players and he works not only with the offensive players, he works with the defensive players. If anybody has the best understanding of our personnel, it’s Brian Natkin because he works with all these guys on special teams. They have a lot of respect for him. They know what he has been through here as a player and as a coach. They respond to him and I think the move for him being the coordinator, he has called games before when he was at the Division II level. He’s an outstanding football coach and competitor. He knows what this series means, this game, and he’s already hard at work getting ready.”
UTEP’s quarterback situation is a complete unknown as of today.
“As far as injuries, I can’t really tell you where Metz is right now. We are probably going to have to go through the week on that. There are several players on our team that are still dinged up. Their availability for this week, I really won’t know until we get out on the practice field and see some guys moving around. So I really can’t expound upon that because I don’t know the availability of our starting quarterback at this point.”
UTEP’s offensive line has struggled, but where does Kugler & Co. start to fix the run game?
“Running the football is all 11 guys, it’s the quarterback getting guys in the right run checks, it’s the offensive line executing their blocks and sustaining their blocks, it’s the running backs hitting the right holes, it’s the perimeter players getting on the right safety. To look at one position or the other and say that’s the reason why we’re not running the ball well, and again, to run the ball well you’ve got to run the ball. We had nine carries by our running backs last week. That’s not going to happen again. To energize that, everybody has got to do their job better. But as coaches we have to put guys in better positions to be successful. That’s our jobs.”
This NMSU game is important on a bunch of levels.
“No matter who we play this week, and this is a big game – we all understand that -- we need to win period, to fix a lot of things. Winning solves everything. Winning makes everything better. It gets your energy up, it gets your confidence up. But what we desperately need right now is a win.”
“It just so happens that we’re playing our rival this week and a team that is playing outstanding. We’re going to have to play our ultimate best to beat this team because I think they’re an outstanding team.”
“Right now, you watch them on film, they should be 3-0. They were a better team against Arizona State. They were the better team against Troy, which is probably the best team in their conference. And then they beat New Mexico for the second straight year.”
“They are playing outstanding football right now. We’re not, we acknowledge that. We’ve got to be the best team on Saturday night. We’ve got a week to get prepared for that and our kids know what’s at stake.”
Mark Torrez led one of UTEP’s most efficient and exciting scoring drives as the El Pasoan continues to grow his game.
“I’ve been saying it all along, I think Mark Torrez has a lot of talent. He can make plays with his legs. You saw him create things when things weren’t there. That’s what he brings to the table. If we go with Mark Torrez, we’ll have to put that flavor into the game and try to play to his talents. Again, I have mentioned it, I like all three of our quarterbacks. Ryan Metz is our starting quarterback. If Ryan Metz is healthy, he’ll be our quarterback not only for this game but for future games but again, I don’t know his availability right now. And I don’t think we’ll know that until maybe late in the week.”
NMSU has evolved their offense with Tyler Rogers in where UTEP has to worry about numerous weapons inside their spread attack.
“It’s based on a lot of things. Experience number one, you’ve got a fifth year quarterback who has been through the ringer. He has gotten better and better each year. He has grown physically each year. You have one of the best running backs in the country. I have a lot of respect for Larry Rose. I think he is an outstanding player. You have seen him grow up, he was a 160-yard back and now he’s a 200-pound back. This guy is going to play in the NFL. They have an NFL receiver in Jaleel Scott, a 6-6 guy. And they have built their offensive line. They are explosive and they can beat you many ways. You see that he has been throwing for 300-some yards a game, but also they can line up and rush for 300 yards with Larry Rose. There are so many different things that they can do. They’re balanced and he gives them the ability to do that. And the other thing about Larry Rose, you sleep on him in the run game, they can throw passes to him out of the backfield. He’s got capable hands and he’s explosive.”
Kugler touches on the Miners running back depth chart for the NMSU game.
“They are all going to get opportunities in this game. You will see more of Josh Fields and Ronald Awatt. I thought we would’ve seen more of them last week and it didn’t turn out that way in the game.”
“But again, I’m not looking backward, I’m looking forward. You’ll see all of the running backs in this game and they’re going to have to be effective, and the guys up front are going to have to do their jobs. The guys in the perimeter, when we do call plays based on the looks, we’ve got to make the right decisions as a coaching staff. All 11 people doing their jobs collectively, and the coaches, is what makes a running game go. Do we know how to do that? Yes, we have been one of the best rushing teams over the years. Are we in a rut right now? Absolutely. And that’s why a change was made.”