Everything Josh Heupel Said After Tennessee Defeated Ball State

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    Josh Heupel

    Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel after the Ball State victory. Photo by Rocky Top Insider.

    The Vols are officially 1-0 to start the 2022 season and the second year under head coach Josh Heupel and his staff at Tennessee. Under the lights on a Thursday night, Tennessee defeated Ball State by a score of 59-10. The Vols began the game firing on all cylinders with Tamarion McDonald intercepting Ball State quarterback John Paddock on the first play of the game, which led to a Jalin Hyatt touchdown reception on the first offensive play of the game.

    Aside from the fireworks at the beginning, one of the most noticeable aspects of the game was Tennessee’s in-game rotation of players. With the Vols facing Top 25-ranked Pittsburgh next weekend, this was a big opportunity for Tennessee to see certain guys in specific scenarios on the field. Tennessee also got to play quite a few freshmen on Thursday night, ranging from running back Dylan Sampson to edge rusher Josh Josephs.

    After the game, Heupel met with the media inside Neyland Stadium to talk about all of those topics and more. Heupel talked about his quarterbacks on the night in Hendon Hooker and Joe Milton III, the environment inside of Neyland Stadium, and debuting wide receiver Bru McCoy in the Tennessee offense.

    Check it all out below.

    Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel

    WATCH: Josh Heupel Press Conference – Ball State Post Game

    Opening statement…

    “I just wanted to start tonight by saying our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Steve White. He was a great player here and played in the NFL for a long time too. Our thoughts go out to his family. Tonight was a great night. I appreciate on a Thursday night the student section and our fans showing up in a big-time way. There was awesome energy from the time we got off the bus for the Vol Walk to running through the T. They were awesome tonight, and it was a great way to kick off our season. As we begin this journey in week one. I was really happy with a lot of things: offense, defense, special teams, effort, energy and competing. Obviously, we had a huge turnover right off the jump. The defensive line was disruptive on the reverse pass. The team comes up with a big play and we were able to put in the end zone on the next play with Jaylen. I thought there was a lot to be excited about in all three phases of the game and early in the game. Obviously, there are some things we need to clean up as we get ready for a big one next week.”

    On Hendon Hooker’s performance tonight…

    “I thought he was very efficient, in command and control. Our tempo, run game, decisions, checks, pass game, same thing. Structurally some things we game planned for and some things we hadn’t. The adjustments on the sideline he handled in a really good way. I thought he was in great command of the football game. I need to go back and watch it. He had the missed throw, but other than that, he was extremely accurate all night long.”

    On there being 8,000 more fans this opener than last…

    “Hopefully, there is a ton of belief and optimism and excitement for the program. I don’t want to say hopefully; there is. You can feel it, and we appreciate that, our program, coaches and players. The effort that has gone in to get to this point, we appreciate our fans for coming out in a big way.”

    On wanting more wide receivers getting in the mix and how they did…

    “The guys have proven that they earned the right to have more opportunities than they did a year ago. Last year on week one, we were still finding out a lot about our football team. We are this year too, but there is a lot known. A year into it, there are more guys that understand offensively what we are doing and the why behind it. They are understanding how to execute and operate efficiently. There is a lot that goes into the tempo that we run with. We have young guys that came in midyear that have proven and earned the right. We are a deeper football team than we were a year ago. There are going to be a lot of things we need to correct, going back and watching the football game. I thought our young guys on defense did a really nice job. If you look at the end of the third quarter beginning of the fourth, they operated and competed in a really positive way.”

    On Joe Milton III’s performance against Ball State…

    “You guys know that we’ve felt like he has grown from the time that he got back in January, much like Hendon [Hooker] has. We’ve felt like they’ve progressed, each of them in their own way. Joe, tonight, showed some of the things that we had seen during the course of training camp, which was extremely positive to see. There are going to be things that he’s going to need to continue to improve upon coming out of this 1-2.”

    On the current stability of this team compared to a year ago…

    “We know more about our football team than we did a year ago. We’ve been through an entire season, some of the guys are in year two. We’ve seen them compete in practice and on the field more so there are more knowns in that way. Roles are going to change throughout the course of the season. This is a physical game, injuries happen, and you’ve got to be ready to take advantage of your opportunity no matter where you are. Whether you’re the one, two, three, four, five, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to keep pushing and competing. That was the message to our team during the course of training camp, it was the message going into this week, and it will be the message when we get back in the building on Saturday with our players.”

    On Tamarion McDonald’s progress over the offseason…

    “He’s a young guy that, a year ago, played a ton of special teams. The way [Theo Jackson] played he didn’t get a ton of opportunity to play at the STAR position. He’s playing such a great way with game confidence, maturing in the way that he’s competed, he’s a different person than he was a year ago at this time. It was great to see him start the ball game the way that he did because of what he’s done leading up to it and there’s no surprise in that way. I’m going to go back and watch the tape, but I thought he played well at the STAR position tonight.”

    On his evaluation of the run game from the younger players…

    “The turnover late, the young guys have got to get right on that really quickly and we need guys to play. I mean we’re playing late so we’ve got to correct that. I thought overall that having bodies and running efficiently, we did that for most of the night. There are some things that we could clean up. I thought guys with the ball in their hands did a good job of running and finishing plays too. Dylan Sampson, it was good seeing him go out there and perform and execute the way that we really anticipate him to. [Jabari Small] and [Jaylen Wright] I thought did a really nice job.”

    On Jaylen Wright getting time in the game…

    “It was much needed. To be honest it’s really the first counterattack that he’s had besides just on some drills where we’ve tried to get a little bit of that during the course of this week as we got to the game. The ball security piece is something that you’re obviously concerned about. He came out tonight, and I thought he did run physical and ran well the rest of the evening.”

    On the tempo of the game…

    “I thought we handled the tempo in a really good way; I do not think there were any false starts or procedure penalties. We got our cleats in the ground, got set and it was good to see. A week from now, there is going to be crowd noise and things we have to battle, so we have to continue to play that way and play ahead of the chains. We have to be a smart football team; I thought penalty-wise we were relatively clean. There were some things that did not get called, and we just have to be smart and make sure we do not hurt our football team.”

    On the defense’s plan against the running attack…

    “Our guys did a really good job of being disruptive up front. We controlled the edges all night long and were able to create some penetration and not let them get started vertically in their run game.”

    On Bru McCoy’s performance…

    “It being Bru’s first game in this offense, you did not notice anything; he played really clean. He functioned and operated really well within our tempo, and I thought he showed some things with the ball in his hands as far as being physical after contact. That is one of the things we anticipated with him. It was good to see him performing at a really high level. We had a bunch of wideouts that did things that were really positive ”

    On the performances of Gerald Mincey and Jeremiah Crawford…

    “The biggest thing for both of those guys is we did not notice any issues. Pass protection was clean all night long, and in the run game, they did a nice job creating movement.”

    On Juwan Mitchell’s absence…

    “He just was not able to go in this one. We will re-evaluate when we get to next week.”

    On Joshua Joseph’s debut…

    “I anticipate him playing at a really high level; I believe that is going to happen for James [Pearce Jr], too. We have the ability to affect the quarterback and rush the passer with those guys. They are only going to continue to get better. At that position, with [Byron Young], Roman [Harrison] and the two young guys, we are a lot deeper. We are drastically different than we were a year ago.”

    On handling the long break before next week’s game…

    “The players will be in the building tomorrow; we will make sure medically we come out the right way. They have class tomorrow. A majority of coaches will have recruiting, including myself. On Saturday morning, we will be back in the building to watch the game together for the first time. Our players will be in Saturday, and we will be able to tie a ribbon on this one and move on to the next one.”

    *Transcript courtest of Tennessee Athletics*

    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.