Vols Look Forward to Matchup with Tennessee Tech

Heupel, Vols Look Forward to Matchup with Tennessee Tech

via UTSports.com
September 13, 2021

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee football team was back at work on Monday in preparation for in-state foe Tennessee Tech, who will make the short trip east from Cookeville to take on the Vols at noon ET this Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

After having a chance to review the film from last Saturday’s narrow loss to Pittsburgh, head coach Josh Heupel was steadfast in his praise in regard to the team’s effort against the Panthers but said the Vols need to apply that effort in a smarter way going forward.

“Obviously, we’ve got to be a lot smarter in the way that we compete; that showed up in particular on offense, at times on defense,” Heupel said in his Monday availability. “I told the players today, the great thing about it is you go back and watch the tape—we finished with the team meeting before we went on the field today—after they got a chance to watch it, those are all controllable by us.

“We can be a smarter football team. Our process of how we lead up to kickoff needs to be and can be cleaner too. Those things have a bearing on how you play. I think everybody went out on the field today with great energy and excited about the next opportunity.”

Heupel and his players expressed that they are eager to get back to work. The loss is fuel moving forward and the players are confident they will learn and translate it to future success.

“I think we’re going to respond better that we have since I’ve been here,” sophomore defensive linemen and linebacker Tyler Baron said. “I’ll stand by that. We are a totally different team than we were after any loss last year. I know we are going to respond well.”

Saturday’s contest against the Golden Eagles will be streamed live on SEC Network+ and ESPN+. You can access SEC Network+ and ESPN+ through espn.com, then go to the watch tab. Fans can also view the game through the ESPN app. Fans must have a valid ESPN+ subscription to have access.

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The video and full transcript from Heupel’s press conference, as well as quotes from Monday’s player availability can be found below.

Heupel Full Transcript

Opening Statement…
“I said it after the ball game, and the players felt that way still coming in the building today: disappointed with the outcome (against Pittsburgh), coaches and players alike are obviously disappointed with it. At the same time, what I said after the ball game, really believe to be true after watching the film. I thought our kids played extremely hard and competed. We talked about going into the ballgame, being able to play for 60 minutes, not really pay attention to the scoreboard and just continue to compete, and I thought our kids did that. It’s a great foundational piece to grow off of. Obviously, we’ve got to be a lot smarter in the way that we compete; that showed up in particular on offense, at times on defense. I told the players today, the great thing about it is you go back and watch the tape—we finished with the team meeting before we went on the field today—after they got a chance to watch it, those are all controllable by us. We can be a smarter football team. Our process of how we lead up to kickoff needs to be and can be cleaner too. Those things have a bearing on how you play. I think everybody went out on the field today—and it’s Monday which is an abbreviated day for us—with great energy and excited about the next opportunity. I think they all believe that we have the chance to be a good football team, we control that and we’ve got to push forward and grow in a big way.”

On if Joe Milton III remains the starting quarterback and is there adversity for that position going forward…

“I don’t consider (the quarterback situation) adversity. Watching the video, Joe knows this too, there are opportunities to make some plays in the pass game that were certainly there. Multiple occasions where we’re running free in the secondary and there’s nobody relatively close at this level of play against a good defense. Plays that we have to make. We’ve got to be able to throw it, catch it and be a little better in protection at times, too. Certainly things that he [Joe] can function, and has shown the ability to do that. I’m just talking through training camp and the way that he’s practiced. I don’t know where he’s at health-wise at this moment. Right now as we go forward, the guys that are healthy will be ready to go compete and play. We’ll find out where Joe is here in the middle of the week.”

On if Joe Milton III is healthy, is he the starter…
“We’ll find out where he’s at during the course of the week, so there’s multiple factors that play in to who’s the guy that’s going to be taking the snaps.”

On what he got out of Kingston Harris and how Jeremiah Crawford is coming along…
“(Jeremiah) continues to get better in what we’re doing. (He was) late in getting here, just through the spring semester and some things he had to get cleared up before he got on campus. He continues to grow. We’ve got great confidence in him as he continues to develop as a player inside of our program, now and in the long term. He’s athletic and has the ability to do a great job in pass protection and continues to get better every single day. We like who he is as a player. I thought Kingston did a good job. Offensive line is a position that we felt we weren’t as deep as we wanted to be heading into the season. Cooper (Mays) got banged up in week 1. There were some moving parts there during the course of the first ballgame that guys handled. We had the opportunity to flip Kingston over from right to left and give him the opportunity to compete. I thought he played pretty well during the course of the game. There are things that we can do better in the run game to be a little bit cleaner, and there are things in the pass protection that we have to do a better job of. There are opportunities where we’re in a one-on-one situation where they found a way to get to the quarterback.”

On when you lose a game can you learn more about the guys and who is with you…
“You find out what their mentality, attitude and makeup is going to be when they handle adversity as a loss. Absolutely. I think I said it to you guys after the game, we’re going to find out a lot about our football team by the way they approached being in the building today. Yesterday was a day where they came back and get some medical treatment. Today, you’re back into football. That’s looking at what happened on Saturday and then pushing forward. Being in the team meeting and being down on the field with those guys, there was good energy. (Were they) disappointed? Yeah, but (you have) to be able to flip the switch and move on. Your family, friends and fanbase are going to talk about the previous one, good or bad, leading up until kickoff the following Saturday. As a competitor, the great thing is you get a chance and have to move on quickly. Don’t pay attention to the outside noise, good or bad. Be consistent in the way you approach the lead up to kickoff. Your process has got to be right. As much as anything, there are some things that we’ve learned about the process leading up to kickoff that have to and can be better.”

On if the officials explained the yardage after the penalties on the kick six on Saturday…
“We would have had possession of the football. They explained that the ball would have been on the five-yard line. Just based on how they just kicked it, the situation, the down-and-distance, the clock, taking everything into account, figured they would punt it. I felt good about our guy being back there, being able to fair catch it. Obviously, they downed it even tighter.”

On what he’s seen from Tennessee Tech and what the team is trying to accomplish in the game
“First is a win. But really, it’s true every week. It really is about controlling the controllables for yourself and inside your program. That’s where we have to continue to get better. This week, as much as it is about any opponent, it’s always true, it’s really about yourself. As we continue to build this program, getting the foundational pieces right is really important. I love a lot of what we’re doing. The process of leading up to kickoff and how we prepare in our mindset is something that’s got to be better.”

On if he wants kickers to try and pin the opposing team deep on kickoffs or kick the ball through the end zone
“No, we love it when the ball goes out the back through the endzone. Our kickoff cover unit has done a fantastic job; they’ve played with some really good effort, played with speed. Some of the fundamental things that Coach Ekeler and the staff has been trying to teach, they’ve done at a really high level. They were swarming to the football. They were defeating blocks and did a great job of pinning them deep in their territory after the 15-yard penalty. They get the ball at the 28, if we are kicking off from the normal spot, you’re on the 13-yard line again. A lot of really good things. With Paxton (Brooks), I just felt like after that first one, he wasn’t able to be the kickoff guy. Just the motion of it. Toby (Wilson) did a great job for the rest of the day.”

On the availability of players that were injured last week
“Tiyon (Evans) was moving around okay today. All of those guys were going to find out more. It’s Monday morning. We’ll find out more before we get on the practice field tomorrow, as far as where all those guys are going to be. Obviously, we’ve had a bunch of guys that have been nicked up; just don’t have anything that’s for certain on those guys right now.”

On if his experience playing quarterback shapes how you handles quarterback competitions… 
“I think as a player, certainly it shapes the dialogue that you have with them and how you try to handle them in the competitive situations and in just around the building and in general. As a coach, all of the quarterback battles that have gone on while I’ve been coaching the position to injuries that inevitably happen during the course of a season at that position, you guys have heard me say it multiple times: the strength of one position can’t just be one guy. I thought Hendon (Hooker) did a lot of really good things. It’s tough being a backup because you don’t get the same amount of reps, you don’t know when your time is going to be called. I thought he answered the bell with a lot of positive things during the course of play. Obviously, we have to do a better job of taking care of the football.”

On the defense giving up 27 points in the second quarter… 
“I mean there’s multiple reasons. I thought they played with great effort, great strain, defeated blocks, a bunch of perimeters screen game early, squashed the run game early, a bunch of three and outs. I think they started with three straight at the beginning of the football game. I thought they handled a sudden change extremely well during the course of the ball game. A couple times where they’re going out after a turnover and the ball’s inside the 30-yard line, gave up three points and knocked them out of field goal range on the second time that it happened. A couple of the drives that they gave up, there’s third and long situations where you’ve got an opportunity to get off the field. You have them on third and goal on the 10, and the quarterback escapes the pocket. Coverage was really good early. You’ve got to match them, but it’s hard to cover guys for six, seven seconds when the quarterback breaks contain. So, you’ve got to push the pocket, but you’ve got to also contain it. We knew going into the football game that he had the ability to extend and make plays with his feet, throwing the football down the field. A couple of times, he got out on us.”

On his thoughts about Hendon Hooker’s play…  
“I thought he did some really good things from within the pocket. He stood in there and got hit on a couple of throws but delivered the ball accurately down the football field. Most of his decision making was right. Obviously, the pick at the end and the turnover were two costly plays. If you look at what has transpired here the first couple of weeks, the quarterback has to continue to do a better job than they have at tacking care of the football.”

On if he’s had any conversations with Joe Milton III about putting touch on passes and if he’s seen Joe make throws during the fall…  
“We would call those plays with any of the quarterbacks, too. We have confidence in those guys, and we’ve seen Joe hit those plays in practice, scrimmages and competitive situations where you’re going good-on-good, too. There are plenty of guys running behind the defense that we have to hit, whether that’s more air on the ball or driving it on them. At the end of the day, quarterbacks have to make it right with his arm and deliver it with accuracy.”

On how he handles playing guys that are banged up…  
“If a guy is ready to play and play at a really high level and is functional as a player, then we are going to give him the opportunity to play. If the training stuff doesn’t feel like someone is a position to play at a high level or it isn’t safe for them to be out there, then you just can’t do it. Offense, defense and special teams takes 11 guys functioning as one. When it’s gone well, we’ve had all 11 guys doing that. When we haven’t on either side of the football, a lot of guys are doing it right, but it takes all 11. As far as injuries, it’s can a guy produce and play at a high level.”

On the performances by Jacob Warren and Princeton Fant…  
“First, I thought they did a good job in the run game. They did a good job of protections when asked to be in that during the pass game. I thought they did a good job of yards after catch. They ran through some contact and picked up some positive yards. I don’t think there was anything they missed. When the ball was in their area – both low and high – they did a good job with their hands of catching the football.”

On his thoughts on Tyler Baron’s play through the first two weeks…
“From January when I got here, (Tyler was) a guy that was coming off a shoulder surgery. Did a great job in the rehab process, along with our training and strength staff. He’s gotten himself back to being able to play and compete at 100 percent. His movement is so much better, just functional speed and power. Being able to play on one arm and one leg as a defensive lineman and push the pocket, really like a lot of what he’s done here early in the season.”

On Byron Young’s status and what he provides…
“Byron will be able to play this week. There was a two-week rule of ineligibility by the NCAA. He’s a guy that has grown a bunch in our program. He has added 25, 30 pounds to his frame from when I first arrived here in late January, early February, credit to our strength staff. Through training camp, through spring ball, has been really good as a pass rusher off the edge. I think he’s going to add some things we need on that side of the football.”

On Matthew Butler’s importance in the defensive front…
“Interior has been really consistent, as a head coach, the leadership he brings to our football program is really important. His consistency and his work habits and caring for his brothers around him is really important. As a football player he’s continued to progress and get better and better. Schematically (things are) a little bit different than what he had been playing in. The ability to jump the football and play on the other side of the line of scrimmage, play on an edge, push the pocket in the pass game, disrupt things in the run game, continues to get better. Anticipate that from him as we go through the year too.”

On the lack of forcing turnovers…
“You hope some of those things start coming. It’s not from a lack of stressing it, from a program stance. It’s one of the things I talk about every day with the players. We chart and monitor it, and our defense (gets) reps every single day. It’s the first thing they do when we break from our stretch after walkthrough. At the end of the day, you’ve got to continue to get hands on balls. You’ve got to do a great job pushing the pocket and make the quarterback uncomfortable back there, make him force the ball. We’ve gotten our hands on a couple, but haven’t come down with them. You’ve just got to compete and play hard. Eventually those things start coming your way. Our defensive skill guys catch balls on the jugs pre-practice, post-practice. We’re doing the right things to try and put them in a position to make that play when it comes, just got to continue to strain and play hard.”

On Jaylen Wright’s performance…
“He had to carry the bulk of it in the second half. As a young player, he is going to continue to get better every single week. Did some solid things in the (pass) protection game. Ran extremely well with his aiming points and being able to deliver. (He’s) got to continue to work on getting lower at the point-of-impact and finding a way to get plus-2 at the end of his runs. But, he’s a young guy everyone in our program feels good about.”

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