UTEP head coach Sean Kugler knew the UTEP Miners faced an uphill challenge going up against the Oklahoma Sooners this past Saturday. When he met with the media for his weekly press conference on Monday at the Sun Bowl, he reiterated that statement but acknowledged that the Miners could have done more.
“We faced an outstanding Oklahoma team and did not do the things necessary to give ourselves the chance to compete,” Kugler said as part of his opening statement Monday.
Turnovers and mistakes doomed the Miners as they fell 56-7 to the Sooners in Norman. Now, the Miners return home to host Rice on Saturday night at the Sun Bowl. It’s a chance to go up against a team that Kugler said is “sitting in the same boat as us” after a rough first go of the season, falling 62-7 to Stanford in Australia back on August 29.
That said, Kugler is looking for a better showing against the Owls after last year’s 44-24 defeat in Houston. The Owls put up 34 unanswered points in the first half and quickly disposed of the Miners in a game that was not as close as the score indicated.
“This is a team that got after us towards the end of last year,” Kugler said of the Owls, “They got after us in the trenches.”
Another setback that the Miners will have to overcome is the loss of starting linebacker Alvin Jones for the first half. Jones was ejected for targeting on a hit on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray in the second half of Saturday’s game and Kugler indicated that this presents an opportunity for others to step into Jones’ shoes.
“I did feel good about what Treyvon Hughes (Hebron) and Jamar Smith did when they went in there,” Kugler said, “It gives me a little more confidence that when we go through a first half without Alvin Jones, we can have somebody step up in there.”
The other unique challenge is that this is the earliest that Sean Kugler has ever played or coached in a conference game this early in the season. It’s also the earliest that UTEP and Rice will face each other this early in conference. The two typically face off in November, but Kugler is embracing the early challenge.
“Urgency and intensity are good words, because anytime you get into conference play, it’s for real,” Kugler said, “It gets your focus early, knowing that you could be 1-0 in conference or 0-1 in conference right after week two. It does get your attention.”
The Owls do have the Miners full attention after what happened last season in Houston. As the Miners host their first home game of the 2017 season, the hope is that they can return the favor in El Paso.
“Rice is always a well-coached team. I think (head coach) David Bailiff gets the most out of his players year in and year out. They got after us last year. We have to get after them this year to have a chance to win this game.”