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UTEP coaches luncheon quotes

KDBC
Monday, August 25, 2014 - 8:48pm

UTEP Football Media Luncheon Quotes
August 25, 2014

Head Coach Sean Kugler

(Opening statement)

“We’re excited about this week to have an opener on the road in Albuquerque against a great rivalry team that has a lot of history with UTEP. It is going to be an extreme challenge for us. New Mexico is an outstanding running team. They run the pistol, triple option and present a lot of problems there. We are going to have to be up to the task to shut down their offense. They have a new defensive coordinator so I would anticipate that they will have some new wrinkles on defense to go along with some of the things that we’ve seen from last year.

“I think coach Davie has done a great job there in his three years getting better personnel. You can see some of the talent that they’re bringing in and developing and they’re trying to build a program just like we are. Defensively, the key to this game is going to be eliminating the big runs. We know they are going to be able to run the ball. They were fourth in the country last year rushing the ball. They averaged 308 yards per game rushing the ball. They can run the ball as good as anybody in the country. They do a lot of shifts motions unbalanced to kind of present some problems with your eyes that creates lanes. It also sets up for big time play action passes down the field. They have capable receivers. Most of their receivers are back. They have a very physical offensive line. Their center is a Rimington candidate. He is one of the best centers in the country, very physical and very smart. They have three returning starters and four if you count a guy that was with them in 2012. They are physical up front. They have very capable running backs. They do lose their leading rusher, but their second and third leading rusher are back and they are both very capable players. I think one averaged 6.1 yards per carry and the other one averaged 9.4 yards per carry in limited action. They’ve got a lot of talent on offense and we’re going to have to be at our best to slow them down.

“Defensively, as I mentioned, we would anticipate some new wrinkles. Personnel wise they’ve got a middle linebacker that led their team in tackles as a true freshman last year. They have a very hard-hitting strong safety. They have talented corners with some good size. They have a returning defensive end who has a lot of ability as a pass rusher, he’s very productive for them. I know they have added some talented JC acquisitions up front to improve their size and athleticism. I would anticipate, must like I do with our own team, that they would be much improved on defense. Special teams wise, they have probably the top kick returner in the country in Wiggins. This guy is explosive. He led the country last year in kickoff return yards, had three returns for touchdowns and averaged close to 30 yards per return. He is a weapon for them. They utilized him quite a bit on offense as a slot receiver and running back. It’s not a typo -- he had 18.2 yards per carry when he did rush the ball. So they don’t give it to him often, but when they do he’s an explosive player. We’re going to have to keep our eyes on him in many facets during the game. I think their quarterback is a very solid player. He is a physical, big guy, about 6-4, 235 pounds and he runs with authority. He’s hard to bring down. He runs like a bull, more like a fullback than a quarterback. He’s a handful in himself. He didn’t play against us last year because he had a concussion during that game, but the backup quarterback defeated us in El Paso so we’re well aware of his capabilities as well.”

(On having extra time to prepare)
“It can be an advantage or a disadvantage. We have used the time to prepare. Much to my own fault last year, we started our preparation like a regular game the week before. This year we started two weeks before. We needed the extra preparation time. We actually even had some extra periods at camp where we prepared for the pistol triple option. It’s an offense that you need preparation time for, because it’s very different from anything else that we will face this year.”

(What is most improved on defense?)
“Tackling and alignment assignment. There were very minimal mistakes during camp. Coach Stoker and his staff gave me a printout sheet each day of every player and how many assignment errors they had, how many loafs they had from an effort standpoint and missed tackles. I can’t tell you how much different that was from last year, but it was night and day. When they were in the hole as a free hitter, based on the scheme they made tackles during camp. That’s going to have to translate into this game and all the games this year. The thing that I really like about our defense during camp was they were flying around having fun and playing with energy. To play defensive football the way we want to play it here, you have to have energy and passion. I really like the steps our players have taken in that area.”

(What are you looking for from the secondary?)
“They’ve got to be gap sound. They’re going to have a big responsibility as far as the run game [is concerned]. They are going to have to be perfect with their fits. I like our secondary. I think we have a talented secondary. And I like our depth at that position. We could play 10 or 11 defensive backs not only in this first game, but throughout the entire season.”

(What are you expectations for the defensive line?)
“The defensive line needs to be gap sound. They need to win their one-on-one battles when they are asked to be blocked one-on-one, and they need to eat up double teams because they do run a lot of inside zone plays off their option package. They’re going to have to play physical. Our defensive line on paper is inexperienced, but I like the way that they play with effort and their intensity and we are throwing a more athletic group out there.”

(On the defensive gaining experience last season)
“There’s nothing like experience. The guys who played in last year’s game, I think one of the first things they did was they threw on the film of last year’s game. I think they immediately saw how much they have improved from a tackling and assignment standpoint. They understand the system now, it shows in the practice and the meetings. Coach Stoker and his staff have done an outstanding job. Not to make excuses, but they were really dealt a tough hand last year coming in during camp, not having a chance to meet with these players during the summer. Their first meeting was actually the first practice. It was a very difficult situation for coach Stoker and their staff. This year having an entire spring and summer with these players with the meeting and the new NCAA rules, they have the proper time to get these guys prepared and it shows on the practice field.”

(On Jameill Showers)
“He is a very talented player and you want to put the ball in your best player’s hands and give him options to run and throw the ball, and give him some leeway. He’ll have some run pass options where he’ll have to make a decision at the line of scrimmage. He’s very smart. He understands these situations well, where you’re not running it into an outnumbered box or you’re not throwing it into coverage every time. You’re trying to get the best of both worlds, and he has handled that package properly in practice and that needs to translate to the games.”

(On the receiving corps)
“Ian Hamilton has nailed down his spot. He is the number one receiver at the z spot. At the x spot right now, Jarrad Shaw is going to start that game. I like his understanding of our system. He is a senior. He has gotten better in leadership. He has really matured over the last year. He has been consistent making plays in practice. I like the talent that is behind him with Batson and Moss. Those guys have not played in a game at the receiver position but they have a lot of talent. I want to make sure those guys have success. They will play and they will play early. Easing them into it will probably be the best process for us right now.”

(On the kicking game)
“Their returner worries me a lot. I think he’s the best returner in the country. I think we’ll be drastically improved in the kicking game for a lot of reasons. Number one, Brian Natkin and and Robert Rodriguez running the special teams area have done an outstanding job. The players have been really focused and are playing with energy. I think we have better personnel as far as linebacker, tight end, fullback type bodies where we have bigger players out there. We’re not just out there with DBs and receivers where we have small special teams and can’t be physical. I think our kickers have drastically improved. Maddox has been extremely consistent during camp. I used to have to look through my fingers last year every time they kicked the ball. The punters have both dramatically improved during camp. Both Ruggles and Sroka will have opportunities to punt. I like our return game. I think Autrey Golden, much like Wiggins for them, is one of the better kickoff returners in the country and certainly our conference. And I really feel like we have better personnel in punt returns. Damian Payne who came from Houston as a transfer has returned punts and kickoffs for them and has been very successful at a good level of football. He brings some experience and Nick Gathrite and Jarrad Shaw will be his backups and get opportunities as a punt returner. I think we’ve improved personnel wise and schematic wise. I love where we’re headed and I think we’ll probably take a few more risks this year on special teams. That’s an area of improvement on the team that I think will be dramatic.”

(On the injury situation)
“It’s amazing. Last year we banged every day and went full pads, and we had about 18 guys on the injury list for the first game. This year we did the same thing, we banged away and we got one. These guys are learning how to practice and how to compete. They’re learning how to practice physical but also protect each other. Stay off the ground, stay off the quarterback, stay off each other’s legs when it’s a situation that’s avoidable. It’s all about learning how to play the game and learning how to practice. We have productive physical practices without the injuries. My hat goes off to the weight room staff. That leads into conditioning. I think the guys are in good shape. And my hat’s off to the training staff. When guys were injured, Dawn and her staff did a great job getting them back on the field. If you told me before camp that we’d have one guy who was going to miss the game due to injuries, I’d take it right now. And that’s where we’re at as a team. Knock on wood that we stay healthy through this week.”

On the status of Malcolm Trail and Luke Elsner)
“We’ll have Trail and Elsner back. It’s probably going to be down to the wire with Chris Thomas, and I wouldn’t rule him out either. He is getting progressively better. We could have a completely healthy team heading into this game. And on another note, we’re 100 percent eligible. Everybody who started the spring is eligible to play in this game and we’re proud of that fact, to go along with last semester’s GPA and APR. Academically we’re heading upwards and that’s never going to go backwards.”

(On Conference USA)
“One thing about it, if you look at the history the last few years there have been different people at the top of the conference. Even though they lost a lot of people, Rice is the team to beat coming back as conference champs. North Texas and Middle Tennessee have a heck of a team coming back. UTSA has one of the best defenses in our league. You add Western Kentucky who won eight games last year. We’ve got a lot of great teams in Conference USA. Old Dominion won seven games and they have an outstanding quarterback. The good news is teams like North Texas and Rice, two or three years ago were sitting at 2-10 and trying to build their programs. Coach Bailiff and coach McCarney had a plan and they stuck with it. They kept recruiting, and they stuck with their beliefs and didn’t waiver and they turned their program around. We have the same mentality and we’re going to have to stick by our guns as well.”

(On Alvin Jones’ development)
“He sure made a lot of plays during spring ball and fall camp. He needs to get to the point where alignment wise and assignment wise he is 100 percent clean. He is getting there. He’s starting to get the defense down. He can make plays. He is long armed and athletic. The thing I love about Alvin and his brother Aaron is they love the game of football. They go out there and they love playing. They love competing. If you ever want to see a competition at its best, just call out Alvin against his brother Aaron. They try to kill each other literally. I really think Alvin Jones is going to be one of the next great UTEP defenders that Miner fans will love watching.”

(On the offensive line)
“We’ve got two young guards who have never played a Division I game. I like those guys. I think they’re physical and tough. They bring a much needed size upgrade. Hernandez is 320 pounds. Elmendorff is 315 pounds. Eric Lee will be starting his first game. He is a very athletic center, a junior college center who didn’t play last year. Chris Thomas was having a heck of a camp before he got hurt. I have a lot of confidence in Jerome Daniels at the right tackle spot. Watkins was moved from guard to tackle because of his athleticism and his demeanor. He was an undersized interior guy who is doing a nice job as an athletic tackle. We feel we made necessary personnel moves to upgrade our size and athleticism. But I like the demeanor of our offensive line. It’s getting to where we need it to be from a toughness standpoint.”

(On the importance of game one)
“Every game is important. I know it sounds real cliché. We look at it one game at a time. My blinders are on for one game at a time. To me, every game is just as important as the next starting with this New Mexico game, and that’s all our focus is on right now is the Lobos.”

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