Predictions for UTEP? Kugler Doesn’t “Give A Rat’s @$$” [VIDEO]
Pity the poor posterior of rattus norvegicus. UTEP head coach Sean Kugler doesn't, at least as it pertains to prognostications about the Miners' final record, which – averaging the picks of many media experts – is between two wins and three.
"I really don't give a rat's ass what the media thinks about my team," said Kugler. "All I care about are the 105 guys that are in that room."
Presumably, that would be a locker room. Kugler's aim is to finish in one at a neutral site.
"At the end of the year if we're standing there in a bowl game, we've accomplished our goal."
The odyssey toward that goal begins Saturday afternoon, but pity the poor posteriors of the UTEP Miners. The No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners won't.
Norman, OK, is not a place that suffers non-eviscerations of schools like UTEP lightly. The Miners are there as a ritual sacrifice to appease the College Football Playoff committee. Any deviation from that role will upset the natives.
The "L" is all but a given and Kugler is under no illusions about the final score Saturday, which immediately removes one rung from a bowl ladder that requires at least six.
Even though a Sooners' trip to No. 2 Ohio State next week opens the possibility of UTEP being a slight trap for OU, there is the sting of a playoff-derailing, season-opening loss to Houston last year and the emotional cocktail shaker mixing Bob Stoops' retirement and Lincoln Riley's hire. That's liable to keep Oklahoma focused on the field. That's bad news for the Miners.
Off the field, expectations will be nuts, as usual. The OU faithful are ready to crown Riley a football genius, commission a sixth large statue in Heisman Park for QB Baker Mayfield and party over UTEP's carcass like the Mayans in "Apocalypto".
This is especially true after a long offseason of reflection in Oklahoma, where Sooners fans pondered a harsh two-loss 2016, thought briefly about the presidential election, then returned to more important things like who'll replace Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine in the backfield.
When they get out of hand, early-season football games at Oklahoma can get downright psychedelic -- a bad trip of raised index fingers, a constant loop of small white horses dressed with funereal bridle plumes pulling what could be an Old West hearse, large caliber blunderbusses and enough marching band renditions of "Boomer Sooner" to give you an ear worm worthy of treatment for PTSD.
In this cauldron, Sean Kugler's job is to manage the clock, his sideline and its expectations.
"I'm realistic when it comes to this game. I'm not a fool," said Kugler. "I’m concerned about the competition of our team winning the one-on-one battles, seeing our guys compete for a full 60 minutes.
"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."
Ball possession will be key for the Miners. As much as fans would like to see UTEP air it out, that's not sound strategy against the high-flying Sooners.
Consider the last team to win its last two out of three in Norman, Kansas State. Keeping the ball out of the Sooners' talented hands helped Bill Snyder's teams win 31-30 in 2014 and 24-19 in 2012.
Sure, K-State scoring 31 points was an aberration in 2014, but the Wildcats made hay with two OU turnovers while not committing any themselves. The 2012 win played out closer to type, as KSU held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game which, in turn, held OU under 20 points.
To that end, UTEP is hoping the rush-by-committee work of Walter Dawn, Jr., TK Powell, Kevin Dove and Josh Fields can fill the void created by the departure of all-time leading rusher Aaron Jones.
When the Miners do pass, Kugler has faith in QB Ryan Metz, the former Andress standout who begins his junior season as the clear starter.
More importantly, says Kugler, Metz's teammates feel the same way as their coach.
"The biggest step that he has made is gaining the trust of his teammates with his leadership," said Kugler. "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.
"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."
Defensively, Kugler and defensive coordinator Tom Mason will be anxious to see if UTEP can bring some heat. An experienced secondary led by pro prospect Devin Cockrell will help, but the main cogs of any blitz-oriented defense are linebackers and defensive ends.
"No fault of coach Mason’s," said Kugler, "we didn’t have the personnel to do that last year. We have recruited hard at both spots (LB and DE). I think we have increased our athletic ability and when you start getting pressure on the quarterback from those two positions, I think we’ll have one of the better secondaries in Conference USA. I thought they played outstanding pass defense last year without gaining pressure."
They will need to generate some Saturday afternoon, or risk seeing a lot of those little white horses.
"We’re 45-point underdogs," said Kugler. "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.”
Speaking of rat glutes.