Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel met with the local media Monday following the Vols’ second straight conference win.
Heupel discussed Tennessee’s second half struggles against the Gamecocks, the play of Hendon Hooker and the health of a handful of key players.
The first year head coach also discussed Ole Miss, his familiarity with Lane Kiffin and his coaching staff and Checker Neyland.
Part of Heupel’s opening statement
Heupel: All of us got a chance to get better and we’re going to need to be better as we go into this stretch because Ole Miss is a really good football team. I’m looking forward to an electric atmosphere this weekend. We need everybody in orange and white at the stadium, be there early, be loud and make it a hostile environment for the opponent that’s coming in. A really good football team that we’re facing, in all three phases. Obviously, offensively, their quarterback [Matt Corral] is a special player and has done a tremendous job, this season in particular, but last season as well. He’s a dynamic playmaker and we got to make it tough on him all night long. Got to do a great job of bottling him up as well.
What’s your familiarity with (Ole Miss offensive coordinator) Jeffy Lebby?
Heupel: Jeff does a great job. (He) was our quarterbacks’ coach at UCF when I first got the job there. He’s a highly competitive guy, does a great job. You can see offensively that there’s a rhyme and a reason behind everything they’re doing. They’re going to put defenses in a conflict. Up-tempo, similar to what we do and I think we are the top two teams as far as plays per minute in power five football. They do a great job of being balanced and creating big plays too. It starts with the quarterback but they’re really efficient in the run game, him being a part of that as well. He does a great job on scrambles too, so even though you want to push the pocket on him, you have to do a great job of bottling him up and they have special playmakers on the outside too.
Those of us that aren’t football coaches look at your and Ole Miss’ offense and see a lot of similarities. How similar are they really?
Heupel: There’s similarities. Everywhere you go your offense is going to be different based on the personnel. What I’ve done at Missouri to UCF to here is different just based on your personnel and year-to-year with your personnel too. The overall structure is similar in that you’re trying to put people in conflict, you’re trying to play with tempo and use that as a weapon against the defense.
Most people see Saturday as a high scoring game. As a play caller does that challenge your patience?
Heupel: I don’t think you want to go into this one just assuming that it’s gonna be a race for points. Every game is going to unfold differently. You’ve got to play situational football and you want to make sure you’re getting the first first down, moving the football, but you know the game will unfold as it kind of unfolds. Each game has its own identity a little bit.
What challenges does Ole Miss’ defense present?
Heupel: They’re playing with six DBs, a multiple and what you’re seeing on the back end and then their fits too. They’ve done a great job of creating turnovers as far as fumbles, you know what I mean? They do a great job of ripping it out and punching it. They haven’t given up a ton of big time, over the top plays. Play soft on the backend of it a little bit so they make you snap it again and again. You know for us offensively, we’ve got to be highly efficient. It starts for us in the run game and then got to be able to make plays out on the perimeter.
You faced Lane Kiffin twice when he was at FAU and you were UCF. What do you remember about those matchups?
Heupel: For sure, you understand that he’s going to be aggressive in certain situations. Playing with four downs quite a bit on both sides of the football field. I think defensively, our players and our coaches certainly need to understand that going into the football game. Does a good job with his personnel finding ways to put them in a position to be successful. He’s done it with a lot of different styles of offense.
What are your thoughts on a potential Checker Neyland and other gimmicks for Saturday’s game?
Heupel: I’m into whatever our fans want to do on Saturday night for this one. You want to play an exciting brand of football. You want to compete really hard and bring fans to the stands. I think we’re doing that right now. Then, you want your fans to enjoy the moment. Saturday night will be a great environment. We need it to be a hostile environment. We need to make it tough for those guys to communicate. Our fans understand that they’re playing with tempo in their communication. We need to make it loud and make it uncomfortable for them.