Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel discussed his team’s weekly preparation, what stands out about Florida and more on Wednesday’s SEC Coaches Teleconference.
Here’s everything the first year head coach said before his first SEC game.
Heupel opening statement: Good afternoon everybody. Hope everybody is doing well. Everyone in our program is excited about the challenge of going down to Gainesville and playing a really good Florida football team. Obviously, everyone saw the way they competed last week and first SEC game for us as a program for our new staff and first road game too. Excited about the opportunity we have. Guys have been great. Love the continued growth of how we prepare and how we practice and I think everyone realizes this is a big one. This is why you come to Tennessee, to play in big games like this. I’m excited about that opportunity.
Question: Walker Merrill led Tennessee in receiving last week, what do yo like about Merrill?
Heupel: Walker is a guy that had a great spring as a true freshman. He got injured on the back end of it and really got healthy right before training camp and has continued to grow and evolve as a player. He’s had some opportunities last week to get the ball in his hands. Thought he did a nice job when he did have the ball in his hands to make plays and gain yards out of it. He did a good job in our pass game of reading zones and man and being in the right spot and being able to connect with the quarterback. A young guy that’s still continuing to grow in what we’re doing.”
Q: In the mesh point with the quarterback and the running back are all of those read plays or are some predetermined runs?
Heupel: Some are predetermined runs, some are play action pass. There’s a mixture of all that.
Q: Florida led the nation in passing last year and is second in rushing this year. Nick Saban said Florida’s option game gave them trouble. How different is what this offense does from last season?
Heupel: I think that’s always been a part of what they do offensively dating way back to his previous stop at Florida when we played them. Last year, they obviously had great skill players and a quarterback that was extremely efficient. They put up big yards in the pass game. I think the option portion of what they do has been a mainstay of what they’ve done offensively with all the quarterbacks they’ve had. At the end of the day you have to play disciplined, play your keys and be in the right spot.”
Q: How much were you able to prepare for the option during the spring and summer or has it been mostly this week?
Heupel: For the most part this week. In year one in the program— and certainly when we took over— the majority of your emphasis is just getting your install as far as what you do and getting the kids up to speed.
Q: How would you evaluate how your team’s stopped the run through the first quarter of the season?
Heupel: A lot of positives with what we’ve done in the run game. There’s been times where the quarterback has escaped the pocket and made plays with his feet. That’s a big part of the ball game in this one. Most of their quarterbacks have the ability to use their feet and be a real threat out in space. They extend plays and can throw it down the field, but they also run like runner and have the ability to make you miss or run through a tackle. Tackling will be a big part of it, keeping them inside the pocket and bottling them up will be a big part of it too.
Q: Growth wise, what have you seen out of Jeremy Banks?
Heupel: Jeremy is a guy from when we got here his buy in to what we’re doing from a culture standpoint has continued to increase. The way he’s approached every day, he’s grown in that and the accountability and that’s led to himself being in the right spot to make plays. He plays extremely hard on game days. He practices that exact same way. He loves playing football and that shows in the way he plays.
Q: What impresses you most about the Florida team?
Heupel: I think their fight. I say that meaning they’re down early in that football game a week ago and they have competitive composure to continue to compete and chip away at it.
Q: From building your culture, how would you say the buy in from your team has been?
Heupel: It’s been really good. Who we are individually and collectively from today versus who we were when I showed up in late January and really began the process in early February is completely different. Accountability, connection, the ability to communicate with one another, the ability to be in the right place at the right time— that’s on and off the field— all those habits are apart of ultimately winning football games and especially big games. All the little things matter. Our kids are continuing to learn what it means to be a great practice player, how to prepare the right way. I don’t question the desire or want from them, I don’t question, at all, whether they’re paying attention and listening and trying to do the right things. We’re just continuing to grow but I love the way our players have been apart of the process of laying the foundation of who we’re going to be as a program moving forward.
Q: How would you evaluate how your quarterbacks have played so far this year and is there any update to Joe’s availability?
Heupel: No update at this point. Looking at that room, there’s positives with what all those guys have done. Decision making at times, being really accurate with the football, being decisive. I think first and foremost we have to take better care of the football at that position. That’s where our turnovers have happened on the offensive side of the football. There’s plays in the passing game that we’re capable of making too. That’s quarterback but it’s also the wide outs, it’s also the protection too. All of those things have to come together. You have to hit those plays when you have a chance in this ball game because they’re tough to come by.
Q: Is there anything you’ve done to prepare for the crowd noise this week and what’s been your advice to your team about going on the road?
Heupel: For our entire program it’s about how you prepare. I think young players in particular get themselves in trouble when they try to do something extra ordinary on game day. It’s really about doing the ordinary things consistently and doing them at a really high level. Preparation matters so that you can know and anticipate and put yourself in the right position to make plays. The environment down there, absolutely, we’ve practiced with a lot of crowd noise. That’s a place that has the ability to get extremely loud. That’s something where our communication needs to be right. In particular, our quarterbacks and our offensive line and skill guys all being on the same page.