When the Oklahoma Sooners take the field on Saturday afternoon they’ll bring with them the nation’s longest winning streak (10 games). The opponent on the day is the UTEP Miners and while most teams come in on opening Saturday to collect a paycheck, UTEP head coach Sean Kugler says his guys are coming to compete.
“I’m realistic, I’m not a fool,” Kugler said at his press conference on Monday. “I know we’re 45-point underdogs. But I’m confident we’re going to compete.”
Notice he didn’t say win though. The Miners were 4-8 in 2016 and haven’t had a winning season since going 7-6 in 2014. Being able to “compete” with the 7th ranked Sooners, and not let things get out of control, would bode well for his squad as they head into a critical season for Kugler. He knows that competing begins with individual assignments and protecting the ball.
“I want to see us win one-on-one battles,” Kugler said. “If guys are winning one-on-one battles we have a chance to compete, we have a chance to keep the game close. We can’t beat ourselves. We can’t have pre-snap penalties. We can’t drop the ball. We can’t turn the ball over. We need to steal possessions.”
Of course he’s a long way from playing a Conference USA team and Kugler realizes that. “They are an outstanding team, an outstanding program. They are loaded on both sides of the ball,” Kugler said. “They have probably the best returning QB in the country. He completed 71 percent of his passes, efficiency sets him apart. He makes great decisions with the ball, he can scramble, he makes plays with his legs.”
The Sooners are loaded with talent, power, and explosive speed. Game planning for this team starts with the guys up front and how you’re going to deal with Oklahoma’s offensive line.
“I’ve never heard of this before, but everyone on their offensive line was named at least honorable mention Big 12 or better,” Kugler said. “It starts with Orlando Brown, he could be the No. 1 tackle picked next year in the draft. When you have a very experienced offensive line it’s usually a formula for success.”
Kugler hopes to combat Oklahoma’s front with a revamped defensive line that is supposed to be bigger and more athletic than last year’s. “We’ve upgraded our athleticism and size,” he said. “Our entire starting defensive line (from last year) didn’t make (this year’s) two-deep.”
“That gives us a chance to compete,” Kugler continued. “We have a lot of new faces on defense, but they’re more athletic. It’s their second year in the system, they understand the system better.”
While I’m happy to hear Kugler’s comments and the approach his team is taking as the head into Saturday’s game, I’m also not thinking that the point spread (45 points) may not be in danger either.