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Everything Josh Heupel Said Before South Alabama

Josh Heupel Tennessee
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel.

Tennessee is gearing up to take on South Alabama this upcoming Saturday in Neyland Stadium. With the Vols sitting at five wins on the year, beating South Alabama or Vanderbilt will officially secure a bowl bid in Josh Heupel’s inaugural season in Knoxville.

For the Vols and coach Heupel, though, it’s not about what may be in front of them down the road. As Heupel has said throughout the season, the most important game of the year is the next one on Saturday, regardless of the opponent.

During Heupel’s final press conference before the game, he spoke about several topics regarding Tennessee’s current team. Heupel touched on a few of Tennessee’s injured starters and their current health status, along with how he keeps his players motivated throughout the course of a long season. Additionally, Heupel also spoke about some plans regarding the future, such as recruiting strategies and roster management going down the road.

Tennessee will host South Alabama this upcoming Saturday night under the lights of Neyland Stadium. ESPNU will have the broadcast at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Below is the full transcript and video for Josh Heupel’s press conference on Thursday before the South Alabama game.

Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel

Thursday Press Conference

Opening statement…

“It’s a good Thursday. Guys were engaged and focused. It was a good work day for us. Obviously, we’re excited about this one. You guys have heard me talk about finishing during the course of the week, something that we have talked to the football team about a lot. In particular this week and finishing up preparation, this football game and the season the right way. We’re looking forward to going and competing on Saturday with these guys. I can’t wait to see the environment inside of Neyland and we’re looking forward to seeing everybody there.”

On an update on Tiyon Evans and JaVonta Payton

“You guys know that Friday is when we make those final decisions. (Aaron) Beasley’s continued to get better. We’ll see where he’s at tomorrow. Tiyon wasn’t able to do much today. He probably won’t be able to go tomorrow. JaVonta has continued to get better throughout the week. We usually make all those decisions on Friday.”

On the offensive line’s performance as of late…

“I think the glaring thing for us as an offense, if you just look at statistically where we’re at and who we’ve been, I think our pass protection is something that we have to continue to improve on. Everyone’s going to think o-line right there, immediately as you say that, but it’s really everybody. It’s running backs included, it’s quarterback and the wide receivers doing the right thing at the right time and getting open quickly. I think pass protection is something we’ve got to continue to clean up. Obviously, we’ve played some really good defenses that can get after the quarterback, too. As a whole, as a group, I think when we got Cooper (Mays) back, everybody kind of fell into their natural position, we’ve been at our best with that group. We expect them to play at a really high level on Saturday.”

On if the assistant coaches focus more on regions or positions on the recruiting trail…

“I think in today’s world; those two things ultimately end up blending together. I think every job is different based on proximity, location, where you’re recruiting base is, how national you are. The more that you are, the more (focused on positional recruiting) it becomes. For us, we do have areas: primary and secondary areas for our coaches. At the same time, as you get through the recruiting process, the initial piece of the evaluation is finding names and seeing body types. At one point in your recruiting process, it ultimately will end up getting position-specific as well. I think it’s really important, though, that your entire staff recruits guys too. From an area coach, to a position coach, to the unit and then, ultimately, me as well.”

On his experience coaching at Tennessee this season…

“Yeah, you guys have heard me say that I love competing with these guys on game day, that’s true. They play extremely hard, but I have come to really enjoy the group as a whole. When I say that, I am just talking about where we started in February, who we were as an individuals, let alone collectively as a group. The kind of ability to trust and respect that we have in the building, how we have grown to be connected, it’s a ton of fun. We got a phenomenal group of men inside our locker room. They are doing things the right way. They care about each other and compete hard. They want to be great, they are prideful, and we have a tremendous staff that is extremely selfless and just care about the whole. When you are around individuals that are like that, it is a ton of fun because you are truly in a team setting. I love playing with these guys, players and coaches alike.”

On talking with the seniors about returning next year…

“We may have had a brief conversation during the course of bye week to get a gauge of where they are at just mentally, but then I think you wait until the end of the year and then you present information. You guys have heard me say it before, we want our players to have a chance to go chase their dreams at the next level. It’s important that they understand what that process looks like, where they are at in their development, where guys in the NFL see them potentially slated, where there is room for improvement. Coming back, what are their goals and aspirations, is it time for them with family dynamics? You present all that information and then you go from there. You want your kids, your players, to make a really well-informed decision, and you want a great amount of success for those guys.”

On why this has been a fast-start team…

“When we have started fast, a lot of weeks we have, the group has been very focused, locked in, and ready to go compete. I think the way we start our practices and the energy that we try to have as soon as the kids come up those stairs into the meeting room all parlay into your group being ready to go compete when that opening kickoff happens.”

On keeping players motivated…

“Everybody is sore and banged up at this point in the year, but I don’t find it hard to motivate this group. We lost some games to some good teams; our guys have shown up and competed in a great way. You take a look at how we started the process week one to who we are now, how we prepare and how we compete. The consistency inside our building because of our coaching staff, which has transcended and been required of our team. We continue to grow and get better and this group cares a lot and have been through some tough things. I think they understand they are a part of growing, and it’s a group that is starting to understand the end result matters, but I don’t think that is what they are truly focused on. They are focused on their daily tasks, their process that they have to go through, and that’s why I feel like it’s a group that is still extremely highly motivated and understands what we want to do here at the end of the season.”

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