Everything Josh Heupel Said About the Music City Bowl Against Purdue

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    Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel met with the media on Wednesday morning as the Vols continue to prepare for the Music City Bowl in Nashville.

    Heupel’s press conference was full of fascinating topics. As the COVID situation continues to shake up the sports world, Heupel spoke about the team’s status and how they approach the health and safety of their players. However, with it also being the Christmas season, Heupel shared some of his favorite Christmas memories, gifts, and traditions with his family.

    Of course, though, Heupel did touch on the football side of things. The Vols have completed ten practices of the bowl season as of Wednesday morning as quarterback Hendon Hooker continues to lead the team. Heupel spoke about Hooker’s leadership, along with other players such as Cade Mays, Jacob Warren, and Warren Burrell.

    In addition to the players, Heupel spoke about the team and how they are preparing for the Music City Bowl, as well as what he has seen from Purdue in his preparation.

    Below is the full transcript for Josh Heupel’s press conference on Wednesday morning, just over a week away from the Music City Bowl in Nashville.

    See Also from RTI: How CBS Sports Graded Josh Heupel & Tennessee’s Year One

    Josh Heupel Wednesday Press Conference

    Opening Statement…

    “Merry Christmas to absolutely everybody in Vol Nation – fans, players, staff here on campus. The last 11 months have been absolutely fantastic for myself, and my family and we’re so blessed to be here and just appreciate everything that you guys have done and wish you a Merry Christmas.

    “Finishing up our bowl practice here this morning as far as here in Knoxville and excited about what our guys have done. Last five or six days (we’ve) gotten more into the preparation for Purdue and I think we’re in a great spot. Excited for a couple days off for these guys. They get a chance to go home and then meet up on Christmas day with them back at the bowl site. Looking forward to that and ready to go play some ball here on the 30th.”

    On the competition at corner during the bowl practices…

    “Bunch of guys that have repped at it. Have a chance to see multiple guys play there. You know, you’ve seen during the course of the season guys be down and the next guy steps up and has performed really well, so I expect good things from the guys that are out there on the 30th.”

    On starting tight ends Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren returning next year…

    “Both of them are just beginning their journey as players. I really believe that their physical development will be critical this offseason. That will be a big part of them continuing to take another jump in their play. They’ve done that already in the 11 months that we’ve been here. I think both of them have been playing their best football middle half of the season on. They’ve got a lot better understanding on how to execute and do the things that we need them to in the run game and the pass game and protections. Those two guys coming back will be a big part of us moving forward next year and (we’re) excited to have those guys back. They represent what’s good inside of this program, too. They’re two great young people, on and off the field.”

    On how unique the working relationship between the tight ends is…

    “Extremely selfless. They don’t care who starts, they don’t care who gets the ball. If you watch one of them have success during the drive, they come off (and) the other guy is the first guy to high-five them and tap them on the helmet. They truly help each other out. They’re great teammates and great leaders inside of our program.”

    On if rust is a concern in bowl games, especially on offense…

    “Yeah, for sure. You watch bowl games, turnovers, penalties rear their head in those games. Rust is a part of that. I think that’s why you got to do a good amount of good-on-good work while you’re here at home, too. Make sure they understand the speed and tempo of the football game. Bowl games are unique in that you got to have some fun and enjoy being around each other, but when you’re in the building that’s football time and you got to be able to lock in. These guys have had really good practices here at home. When you get to the bowl site, you got to be able to manage that in the same way.”

    On what he expects from Purdue…

    “Defensively, extremely physical. They play hard. Front seven is physical at the point of attack and we got to do a good job. You look at them, they do a good job in red zone areas, and we got to do a good job of creating some explosive plays, staying out of third and long with them.

    “Offensively, their ability to throw the football around is some that we’ve got to do a great job of being bale to manage. Your front four or your pressures, you got to get home and make it uncomfortable for the quarterback. (Have to) do a good job of getting it out of his hands, screen game as well. To do that, you got to be able to get your hands up and affect the throwing lanes, as well.”

    On Cade Mays’ injury status and the teams current COVID protocols…

    “Cade continues to get better. (He) hasn’t gotten a ton of work here at home. We’ll see where he’s at when we get to the bowl site. He continues to get better.

    “COVID protocols, it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, obviously there’s been a spike just in our general population. You’re always concerned about that because it deals with just the safety of your football team. I think our vaccination rate is up above 90 percent. Some guys have gotten boosters – I don’t know the number of guys that have – but we’re in a good spot right now. Really haven’t had many issues with it, but as you disperse and players go home and they come back, all of those things, you’re concerned about all of them.”

    On how he learns of players’ statuses pertaining to COVID-19…

    “The guys that are not vaccinated will continue to get tested, and if somebody tests positive, that’s when you find out … Your first concern when you’re in this position is just the health and safety of your team as a whole, so that’s the thing that you’re most concerned about. You try to educate them consistently throughout the entire year, not just during the football season or not just because of a bowl game. You make them aware of what’s going on in the general public, as they will be in that area more—just more time during bowl preparation, plus they’re going back home (for Christmas)—and try to make sure that they’re taking care of themselves.”

    On balancing bowl festivities and bowl practice next week…

    “It’s different for us. We don’t have afternoon meetings. We elongate our morning meetings a little bit to cover up what happened in the previous practice and our situations that we’re going into that day. When it’s football time, we’ve got to be dialed in and be into that moment, truly focus on what’s important in that moment. When you’re done with the football side of it, your players have to enjoy that bowl experience, too. Enjoying it is a part of being ready to go play and do it the right way at the end of the week, too.”

    On his general impressions of the early enrollees taking part in bowl practice and his thoughts on what those players gain from the experience…

    “First of all, they’re getting thrown right into the middle of it. We’ve been working with our players for 11 months for them to be where they’re at in understanding our scheme, right? The great benefit for them is they get introduced to the team, get introduced to what the culture is on the football side of it in the meetings and on the practice field. They get a ton of individual work. To me, in these four days— or maybe it’s six days, depending as they all kind of came in at different times—they get great exposure. Now they have three and a half weeks to go back home. They’ll work out a little bit. They get accustomed to what we’re doing in the weight room, so they have a chance to take some of that back home with them. When they come back, I think it just creates great comfort in coming here. They’ve already been introduced into their position groups. They know all the guys and surely have sat in the meeting room with them, hung out with them. I think it just eases the transition when they get back as well.”

    On his favorite Christmas gift he has received and any Christmas traditions he looks forward to…

    “Probably a set of lockers when I was like five years old. I felt like my bedroom had turned into a locker room. I thought that was pretty cool. Purple and gold. Big Vikings fan back in the day, so was pretty excited about that. Christmas traditions? Man, major Christmas tradition is this afternoon I’ll take my daughter—potentially my son, but definitely my daughter—and we’ll go do some shopping for my wife. That’s the No. 1 checklist item I have to get done before we get to the 25th.”

    On quarterback Hendon Hooker returning…

    “Excited for him because he made a choice, based on the information that he was provided, that’s going to help him in the long-run. He’s excited and wants to (come back), his heart is here at Tennessee, he wants to be a part of this football team moving forward. Extremely excited for him, his family, and for our football team. (He’s a) great leader and I just believe that he is still becoming the best version of himself as a player. (He) has an opportunity to change some things fundamentally, continue to grow. Last year, you’re so worried about getting your scheme in that, some of the global view things, you don’t get a chance to touch on in year one. We’ll be able to do that with him and really excited to have him. Obviously, the way that he’s played, you look at it like a football game, each quarter of the season he’s continued to get better and better. That speaks to what he (will be) able to do next year, too.”

    On the growth of Warren Burrell…

    “I think that’s the challenge for any young player coming into our program is to have that mentality and approach every day and everything that you do. It’s a challenge for our guys coming back to elevate their stock at the next level. I think Theo Jackson is a perfect example of the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. That’s happened for Theo this year. He’s got a great future ahead of him because of it. Warren is a young player that is only going to continue to get better. Physically for him, the strength and conditioning, the nutrition, everything that you are doing. Understanding that every decision you make takes you closer or further away from your goals, is something that is going to be big for him this offseason. Being a pro in the meeting room – understanding his spot but all 11 others and how that effects his job, I think is how he continue to elevate his game. As he does that, he’s going to gain inches every single day. You look back on it when it’s time to go kickoff next fall, he will have come a long ways.”

    On the growth the team has in bowl practices…

    “To me, it’s like anything inside of this game. I’ve got two kids. I watch them and see them every single day. During the offseason you don’t notice it, until you see a picture from two months prior. In some ways, football is that way. You’re making incremental inches every single day that you’re gaining. You look back a month or two or at the end of an offseason or a strength and conditioning period and you see the distance that you’ve traveled. Young guys got a ton of development in the practices here at home. Individual, group work and a bunch of team work too. So, you become way more accustomed and grow in a really quick way and I think that can speed up, accelerate, channel their focus when they come back the following semester and understand the gains that they need to make before they get into a spring practice. For some of the early enrollees I’d say the same thing. The speed of the game, the fundamentals, everything is happening so fast for them. They get a chance to get exposed to it. Man, it can accelerate their urgency when they come back here in January as well.”

    On Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm and their similarities on offense…

    “I don’t know Jeff really. He’s been in the pass game throughout his career, everywhere he’s been. I’m not going to say pass-heavy, but it’s a major part of what they do. When he was playing, early in his career, they were one of the first teams in the spread (offense), similar to my background.”

    – Transcript provided by Tennessee Athletics Communications –

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.