El Paso, TX — UTEP head football coach Sean Kugler's press conference quotes for Monday, October 7:
On Saturday’s loss to La Tech
“That was a heartbreaking loss for us this weekend. Again, I feel for the fans that came out to the game because they are extremely supportive of the team. The fans energize us and they were great during thegame and at all the right moments and we’re going to keep scratching and clawing to try and bring home a win to the fans, because they deserve it.”
“The summary of the game from my perspective and from a coach’s perspective is we had their team backed up twice, once at theeight-yard line and once at the minus one-yard line, with a third and 21 inboth instances and we did not, on simple running plays, hit and tackle. They converted on both of those and both turned into scoring drives, which negated our chances to get the ball back and move it down the field and get chance to tie or go ahead. When we did get the chance to tie or go ahead, we drove down and had a field goal blocked. Then we did drive down and get a touchdown on the last drive and attempted an on-side kick, in which we were unsuccessful to get the ball back.”
“There were a lot of positives from the game but there were also of things we need to address and work on, and we will address that andwork on that feverishly to get it corrected.”
Is there anything specific you’re going to try to change or just keep doing what you’re doing?
“I wouldn’t say change is a word, but we need to do better and we need to tackle better. It’s an obvious eye sore to anybody that’s watching the game, to us as a staff and to the players. The frustrating part is you got a lot of guys in proper position that don’t execute the tackle and we need to continue to tackle in practice, we need to continue to have additional tackling periods where we teach the young men how to tackle and how to tackle properly and then it comes down to a willingness to tackle. The disappointing part from that end is there were a couple of guys that were in position and did not make that tackle. We suffered as a team as a result.”
On Jameill Showers and Jordan Leslie having a connection the last two weeks.
“I’m really excited about that. They’re two great kids and they both have great work ethic. They work together in practice and really when you see a great quarterback and great receiver on the same page, it’s exciting. They’re starting to develop that chemistry, they communicate well with each other, and they’re starting to understand each other a little bit more, as far as route running. Jameill’s been throwing some nice balls and Jordan’s been doing a great job in traffic, concentrating on making the big catch and making yards after the catch. I think those two are going to get better week in and week out and they have two more years together. That’s an exciting thing for us moving forward.”
The lack of production from the other receivers, is that a concern for you?
“We got great production from our tight ends, which are a big focal point. Those guys have averaged 26 combined catches and close to 300 yards and four touchdowns. So that’s the production from the tight end position. Ian Hamilton has had some production, but did not have a productive night the other night. But we only play with two wide receivers on the field at one time, so the other guys that have to be productive in the passing game are the tight ends and running backs, which they have done.”
Have we seen the real UTEP offense?
“We want to be balanced and we’re averaging 200 yards rushing a game and we’re averaging 218 yards passing a game, and that’s pretty balanced. We’re averaging 33 points a game, 23 first downs, we’ve been close to 50 percent on third downs, 85 percent in the red zone and we’ve had time of possession of 33 minutes – those are all positives. If you compare those to last year’s stats, probably dramatically increased in every category. I’m very pleased to where the offense is heading and we want to be balanced. I don’t want to go out and be a 300-yard rushing team and only pass for 100 yards, and vice versa. We’re very balanced right now, but we need to be consistent. That’s what’s probably keeping us from being a good offense and taking the next step to be consistent all the time with consistent drives. I’ve been pleased with the offense’s progress so far this season and in particular the development of the quarterback. Some other positives on offense, you look at our freshman tailback, he’s averaging 5.7 a carry, he’s got three touchdowns and he’s on pace to have a 1,000-yard season, which has never been done here. There’s a lot of positive things to point to on the offensive side of the ball and we’re going to try to build upon those things.”
What is it that Aaron Jones does very well that helps him be successful?
“He’s got great, natural running ability. There some things guys have that you can’t coach, they have vision, they’ll cut and you don’t see why they cut until you see it on film and see that was a great vision play. But the thing I like about that young man is his toughness. He’s not a big guy but he runs between the tackles, he breaks tackles, and he takes big hits and gets right up. He’s got a good understanding of the game and he’s just a great character kid. I’m excited about his brother (Alvin) – we are redshirting his brother – but he shows the same type of instincts on the defensive side of the ball, he just hasn’t played there as long. They’re just a great football family and I love the young kid. I think he has all the tools and character that we’re trying to build this program with. He’s just going to get better because he works so hard at it.”
On the defensive side during opponents opening drive
“We have to start better. Offensively, we’ve been taking the ball down the field and scoring. But defensively, we’ve been allowing scores and it puts us behind early. We have to come out faster from a tempo standpoint and we have to practice that way. We try to do two huddles to try to simulate that fast tempo and if you want me to make a point of one thing, we have totackle better and I’m not sweeping that under the rug. We’re not very good at tackling and the only way to correct that is to continue to teach the young men how to tackle and do it in a live setting where they can do it at full speed, but were not close there right now. Until we are close to there, it’s going to be tough to win games. But if we fix it, we can turn things around and it is correctable.”
Through all this, you’ve kept your composure – are you getting to that point where you’re reaching your boiling point?
“I’m not going to lose my composure. What kind of message does that send to the players? Am I happy that we’re 1-4? No, I’m disgusted by it. Am I going to point fingers at players or coaches? No I’m not going to do that either. What I’m going to do is continually work. I do know this, I’m going to work until this thing is squared away and headed in the right direction. In some ways it is and in other ways we got miles and miles to go. My job as a coach is to identify what the problems are, work hard to correct them and I don’t have a timetable on that. I’m not going to say we are going to be the best tackling team in the country. We have to get continually better and that comes with personnel. We are going to recruit hard and we are going to recruit at positions where we are inadequate in right now. The day you see me quit on something, or get frustrated or give up, that’s what’s gotten me to where I’ve been in my career and I don’t get phased by that. I’ve been through some tough seasons; trust me, as a player and as a coach. You just keep grinding and keep working. Don’t worry about what outside sources think or say, because I don’t.”
Personnel wise, do you have the talent to be a good tackling team?
“I think we have the talent in certain areas. But I don’t think it’s so much talent, we lack a lot of depth. In particular on the defensive side of the ball and in particular on the defensive line, I’ll be honest about that, and it’s something we really need to shore up withrecruiting and developing players. We have some good young players and it’s up to us to develop those guys. But we need to do a great job recruiting and get our numbers to balance. My goal here in the next two years is having the offense and defense balanced numbers wise when it comes to scholarship players. I’m going to tilt heavily on one side of the ball than the other and that’s going to take a little time and effort.”
How do you get your first conference win against Tulsa on Saturday?
“Simple formula for us will be no turnovers. Which again, overall for the year we’ve been very good; we’re plus four. We’ve had two fumbles and two interceptions and we need to get turnovers on the defensiveside of the ball. I really think if I’m standing up here next weekend and we won the turnover battle, we would have a good chance to be in position to win that game. Offensively, we have to run the ball more efficiently. If you’ve noticed a lot of our big plays we’ve had this year are off of play action passes that mirror our run action. Those aren’t effective if you don’t run the ball efficiently. We ran the ball efficiently the other night and we had some effective passes down the field. So that’s what we need to do offensively. Defensively, again, it’s going to sound like a broken record but until we shore up our tackling and improve our tackling, it’s going to be a struggle to anybody. In particular, these guys, because I think this is the best running back we face in Watts number 22 for Tulsa. He leads their team in rushing, he leads their team in receiving, and he’s their best kick returner and their best punt returner. He’s a one-man band and he averages close to 200 yards a game. So our focus needs to be on him and he’s tough to tackle. He’s got a great stiff arm, great balance and he’s a special player.”