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UTEP Insider: Sean Kugler

UTEP Head Coach Sean Kugler speaks with media headed into this week’s game vs UTSA.

Interview with UTEP Head Coach Sean Kugler

Opening Statement
“We utilized the bye week this week for many reasons. Number one, the main focus was getting guys healthy. Going into this week, I think we’ll field the healthiest team this year. With guys like Darrin Laufasa, Ryan Metz – he’s been cleared to go – both the Jones brothers, Jerome Daniels, who’s missed past few games, Kalon Beverly, who’s also missed the past few games and Gino Bresolin, who’s been hurt the past few games. All those guys utilized the bye week for great treatment and we’ve kept them off the field and they’re healthy and ready to go, which is a positive thing for us.”

“The main thing we did as a staff was we evaluate every position. We had a lot of staff meetings to discuss things that we could do better as a staff. We working on solving problems and tried to improve and change. We really do understand that were 1-5, we’re not 5-1 and we’re not 4-2. We’re behind the eight ball, our backs are against the wall and we have to choose to fight back. But to start to do that, you have to solve problems. We did strong evaluation of our team from a personnel standpoint, from a scheme standpoint and things that we can do better. And we did a team evaluation from a practice standpoint. If I could pinpoint one thing, the first half of the season that I felt was lacking – and trust me, I’ve been trying to spin my wheels on this whole thing where we’re at – it’s been lack of energy. I believe energy comes from within and how you prepare during the week. One thing that we’ve always done here was a lot of live hitting and competition type drills. We did a lot of it at training camp and the energy was very good during training camp and the first game. But it kind of waned off and we eliminated those type things and more so out of fear of injury.

“Looking to this week, UTSA is currently a 3-3 team. They’ve played some outstanding teams. They played ASU down to wire and they played a tough Colorado State team down to the wire. They lost to Old Dominion in our conference. They beat Southern Miss and beat them handily. They jumped on them fast and that’s kind of been their M.O. They’ve been jumping on teams fast and they’re averaging 10 points per first quarter. Last week, they beat Rice in a very defensive minded game with a lot of hard hitting and those type things. Rice missed an extra point and some field goals that would’ve given them the opportunity to win the game. UTSA’s record can go either way, but they are where they are at 3-3.”

“They’ve been good in the turnover category. They’re even, gained eight [turnovers], lost eight [turnovers]. They’re third in Conference USA in the turnover margin. “Offensively, as far as points per game, they’re in the middle of the pack at seventh, 26 points per game. Their rushing offense has come on as of late and I think that they have two outstanding running backs in Jalen Rhodes and Jarveon Williams. Both those guys can go as their second the third-leading rushers and their second and third-leading receivers, so they can come out of the backfield and catch the ball as well. The thing that has really stood out, they’ve had down-the-field explosive plays. They have had touchdowns of 92 [yards], 80, 77, 71, 51 and 51. And they’ve jumped on teams early with explosive plays. If you watch the Southern Miss game, there were a couple of turnovers on the Southern Miss side and you look at the scoreboard, it’s already 21-0 and [Southern Miss] couldn’t overcome that lead.”

“Passing wise, I think that they’ve made a big improvement. I think their quarterback Sturm is having an outstanding season; close to 1,200 yards, 10 touchdowns, three interceptions and completing the ball at a high percentage at 64 percent and they’re passing for 227 yards per game, which puts them in sixth in Conference USA some with some very good passing teams in our conference.”

“They’ve given up 22 sacks, probably one of the things that stand out, they’ve been giving up close to 3.5 sacks per game. And again, we need to generate some sacks and again, that comes from working on it from a fundamental standpoint, from a personnel standpoint and dialing up more pressure more often.”

“Where they’ve been very good on both sides of the ball is third down conversions and red zone touchdowns. They rank fourth in Conference USA in both categories. That’s why they are 3-3 and fielding a very competitive team. They have some graduate transfers. They have a graduate transfer at left tackle from LSU and they have a graduate transfer safety, that looks like a linebacker, from LSU. I’m sure that comes from the ties from their head coach [Frank Wilson] coming from LSU.”

“Defensively, they’re number one in points per game – the number one stat that matters. They’re number one in Conference USA and only giving up 24 points per games. They’re playing outstanding defense and stopping the run. They rank fourth in stopping the pass and then overall they’re fourth in total yards. They’re a very good defense and very athletic. Their secondary and linebackers is where they’ve made their biggest improvement. They have some long and athletic secondary guys. They have two or three safeties over 220 pounds. They look like linebackers and defensive linemen.”

“They have a freshman linebacker [Josiah Tauaefa] who’s close to leading the nation in tackles. He’s got 68 tackles and this guy, number 55, is a football player. He’s got 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, an interception and six quarterback hits. Now if you look at their stats on sacks during the year, they’re 11th in Conference USA in sacks, they haven’t generated a lot of sacks, but they have the most quarterback hits in Conference USA. A lot of times quarterback hits are as important or more important then sacks. They have 25 quarterback hits on the year.  They have an outside linebacker, hybrid defensive end, number 93 [Marcus Davenport] from a physical standpoint he looks a lot like Roy Robertson-Harris who played for us. He’s 6-foot-7, 245 pounds and he can get after the passer and he leads their team in tackles for loss and sacks. Along with number 55 [Tauaefa], number 42 [La’Kel Bass] is an outside linebacker who’s third on their team in tackles. Again their safeties, Nate Gaines [number 11] is 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and number eight [Michael Egwuagu] is 6-foot, 220 pounds and the LSU transfer [Jordan Moore] is 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. They run a three-safety scheme and one of those guys floats down as an outside linebacker; they’re all physical and they all bring the wood.”

“Again, as I mentioned on offense, they’re also very good on third downs on defense – fifth in Conference USA – and they’re good in the red zone. That’s the formula that has been working. The other thing that stands out is they are very solid on special teams. Their punt team averages 36.5 net which is ranked seventh. But their punt return is okay and probably the unit that they want to improve on the most, being ranked 12th in Conference USA. But I always feel when you look at a team’s toughness, you look at their kickoff coverage unit. They’re ranked second in Conference USA in kickoff coverage. They pin most guys inside the 20-yard line. They have a good kicker who hangs the ball in their and they let their athletes go down and make plays. And then kickoff return, they have an outstanding returner in number 20 [Brett Winnegan] and they’re ranked third in Conference USA. And in points after touchdowns and field goals, they have not missed one of either PAT or FG, ranking first in Conference USA. They have an outstanding defense and they’re outstanding special teams. They’re winning close games and they’re jumping on teams fast. What we cannot do, is go on the road and get behind the eight ball early. We need to come out fast and that needs to be the focus for us in this game.”

On Bringing Up the Energy This Year
“It’s the number one thing that stands out to me. Of course there are other things issue wise, that we have to solve. The number one thing that stands out to me is energy on the sidelines. Energy after making a big play and those type things. I think sometimes when you get behind or you’re losing a game, that energy starts to wane and we can’t get back to that. I think that it can be created, but energy also comes from within and I think our leaders on our team, the senior leaders, the captains, they need to bring that energy everyday in practice for the young guys.”

The Key to Slowing Down UTSA
“Number one you have to stop the run because the backs are outstanding and they can run the football. That’s what they want to do, they want to run the football, they kind of want to get you to load the box, then take shots over your head. And they do have capable receivers to make big plays. Their quarterback has also made some outstanding runs this year. We need to be balanced, we need to be in our gaps and we need to play with great fundamentals. These are the areas we need to attack. I can sit here and mention a lot of things, but it comes down to fundamentals. Football comes down to blocking, tackling, catching, throwing and hanging on to the football. The one thing I think at the end of the year if I’m sitting here describing how we finished up, I think it’s going to be did we secure football on offense and did we get that ball on defense? We need to start attacking the ball on defense, we need to force turnovers and we cannot turn the ball over. That will be the one telling stat. The rest are the fundamental things that I know our kids are going to attack, are the schematic things that coaches are going to attack and the personnel things is we are trying to get the guys in the right spots. We have to keep plugging away and finding those people to plug in there and I think the coaches have done a good job doing that and now those guys need to go out and produce. I have every confidence that they will.”

On Passing the Ball More Downfield
“We need to take more shots. I don’t know if you can just say it’s just mandated so many times in this quarter, but I will say at the end of the game we need to take more shots down the field and there’s a lot that goes in that. The first being protection, running the ball efficiently and guys separating. We’re trying to get more speed on the field, trying to be more efficient by getting our best five out there on the offensive line and if we can do that, it allows those things to happen.”

On Limiting Penalties at the Most Inopportune Times
“The penalties have dropped in the last few games and it’s really been emphasized hard to limit those penalties. But some of them have come at inopportune times. Penalties come down to fundamentals. Whether you get a passing interference on defense or whether you get a holding penalty on offense, it comes down to fundamentals with the simplest things like moving your hands or moving your feet and those type things. You can drill that, you can emphasize it, but ultimately you have to be in the right position during the game. You can solve those things and we’ve really not been penalized a lot over the last four years. And when you look at the overall penalties, we’re not highly penalized team, but it always seems that we’ve been penalized in most inopportune times. That’s something I really think that we can clean up and that’s something the kids are putting a big focus on with the coaches. That’s something we need to improve in the second half of the season.”

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