Sean Kugler has spent most of his coaching career teaching offensive linemen. Before returning to Texas-El Paso, his alma mater, as a head coach last year, he spent 15 seasons helping college and professional linemen perfect the art of blocking.
So, as you may imagine, Kugler still uses the mindset of an offensive lineman as a head coach. He wants his teams to work hard, play physical and avoid mistakes.
He hopes he has the Miners on the right track toward that goal. A trip to Manhattan on Saturday may help. Eventually, he wants his program to resemble Kansas State.
“Top to bottom — offense, defense and special teams — they are a really solid unit,” Kugler said earlier this week in a phone interview. “They are a well-coached team and they play physical. Really, they are where we are trying to get our program at some point. We would love to emulate what they are doing, because they are solid on special teams and they are physical on offense and defense. They control the clock, and I think they just do a great job.”
Kugler and UTEP will get an up-close look at Bill Snyder and the program he has built at K-State this weekend when the Miners take on the No. 25 Wildcats in the final nonconference game for both teams.
K-State is favored by 26, but the game could be more interesting than the point-spread indicates. The Wildcats are coming off an emotional loss to No. 5 Auburn, and UTEP is one of the nation’s top rushing teams. Running back Aaron Jones (7.8 yards per carry) ranks second nationally with 549 rushing yards. UTEP also ranks fourth nationally in time of possession. The Miners aren’t an easy team to blow away.
Of course, K-State’s stout run defense is allowing 2.9 yards per carry. If the Wildcats build an early lead and force the Miners to pass, this game could become lopsided.
Kugler didn’t touch on any of those areas when asked about the key to this game, though. Instead, he responded like Snyder.
“We can’t beat ourselves,” Kugler said. “That’s No. 1. We can’t come out of that game with turnovers, penalties and a lot of negative plays, because that’s not the style of play that we are going to respond to. Defensively, we can’t give up the explosive plays in special teams. We are really going to have to contain No. 16 (Tyler Lockett). He is a dynamic returner. We have challenges in all three phases.
“But the big thing is we can’t go out and beat ourselves. If they are better than us, they are better than us. But we can’t, at the end of the game, turn around and say that we beat ourselves.”
UTEP has done a nice job in that department so far. It beat New Mexico on the road and pounded New Mexico State at home. And it held a fourth-quarter lead against Texas Tech.
Kugler knows playing at K-State will be a different challenge, though.
After all, this is the program he wants UTEP to emulate.
“This is going to be the toughest team we have faced by far,” Kugler said. “Any player that is competitive wants to have the opportunity to beat the best. As I mentioned, I feel like Kansas State is the best team we are going to play and they are deservedly ranked in the top 25. They should have won that game against Auburn, probably easily. I know our players are excited to play against a team like that.”