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Everything Josh Heupel Said Previewing Tennessee-Georgia On SEC Coaches Teleconference

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel answered questions from the regional media on the SEC Coaches Teleconference Wednesday.

The Vols head coach discussed being the No. 1 team in the country, Nolan Smith’s absence and much more.

Here’s everything Heupel said ahead of the top five matchup at Georgia.

Question: What was your reaction to being No. 1 in the College Football Playoff  rankings?

Answer: “Didn’t know where we would be ranked. I talked to the kids earlier on Monday about those things are great for your fans to be excited about and pay attention to. As a program you work to put yourself in a position to be thought highly of. At the end of the day, for competitors it’s all about the next one. We’re only as good as our next performance. For us, it’s prepare the right way and practicing the right way to get ready to go play hard. Our guys have been really good. Today was a great practice and we understand the test that we have. Looking forward to the next game and part of our journey here together.”

Q: How would you compare Tennessee’s quick turnaround to the quick turnaround you were apart of at Oklahoma as a player? Are there any similarities?

A: “Just going back to that as a player in year two the growth and maturity of individuals collectively and as as a football team. The ability to fight, strain and compete really hard. The connection we had in the building. As the season went on we continued to get better. We weren’t playing really good football until probably October. We continued to get better over the course of the season. There are parallels. You’re talking about a program that was fragmented in some ways when I first got here. Similar to when I first got there (Oklahoma). I think a clear vision and everyone jumping in the boat together and pulling as hard as they can and competing. This group continues to grow, continues to get better. I say it all the time to our guys, good teams continue to get better over the course of the season. These guys habits give us a chance to continue to get better.”

Q: What makes Georgia such a good tackling team?

A: “First of all, being a great athlete allows you to get there in better position for more tackles. You’re not out of position. The athleticism to close the space. They’re great fundamentally too. They do a great job with their eyes and wrapping up. They’re physical. Big guys. Great speed on all three levels of their defense. Typically not just one guy that’s there at the party. It’s going to be a bunch of guys closing in. That space constricts and makes it incredibly difficult.

Q: What impresses you the most about Stetson Bennett?

A: “Just watching him over the last couple years, his growth as a quarterback. Confidence. He’s in complete command of what they’re doing offensively and what he’s seeing on the other side of the football. He’s been so accurate. He’s a really good decision maker and takes good care of the football. I think one of the things, I said it earlier in the week, he is sometimes undervalued with his athleticism and his ability to extend and make plays off scrambling out of the pocket and throwing the ball down the field or, there were a couple plays in that game last year where, critical downs he made a play with his feet that changed the game.”

Q: What is the importance of the running game in your offense?

A: “For us, we have balance of what we do offensively. The run game is critical to our success. The line of scrimmage in this football game will play a big part to determining this football game. We continue to get better up front defensively and offensively over the course of this season. There’s still lots of room for growth as we continue to prepare and compete the right way. Our running backs have done a nice job. I think they’ve grown in their understanding of offensive football, the run schemes and how to deliver blocks. Understanding pace until you see the hole and accelerate through it. We’ve gotten better at being physical at the end of runs. This is a big test. The line of scrimmage is going to matter in a big way. Like I said earlier, it’ll play a big part in deciding this football game.”

Q: What are your thoughts on margin of victory when it comes to rankings?

A: “Man, I’m going to be honest. I don’t think about that at all. College football you look at scores across the country every week and it’s about finding ways to win. Especially in this league. Every week we’re facing someone who’s extremely talented, well coached and it’s about being the best team on the field each Saturday.”

Q: With Nolan Smith out for Georgia Robert Beal will see a bigger role. What did you learn from facing Beal last year?

A: “Really good player. Destructive. Ability to affect the line of scrimmage and the run game but affect the passer too. Their defense is deep enough up front that they play multiple guys. They rotate and the next guy up there’s no drop off. They have guys that they’ll be able to rotate all ball game. Not just one person, but across the board, they have the ability to affect the quarterback.”

Q: Did you hear much about the Oklahoma-Nebraska 1971 game of the century while in Norman?

A: “Yeah, for sure. That game was a big part of the history of the university but also just the rivalry there. When we played them in October of 2000 people were comparing those two games to each other.

Q: Knowing some history, what’s it like preparing for a game of the century this week?

A: “I don’t know what people are calling it. We’ve been game planning here. This is a great opponent we are playing and excited to get an opportunity to play in a game that means a lot, has a lot of attention on it and obviously will be a great environment there in Athens. For us inside of our building, it’s really about the preparation and being ready to be our best at kick off.”

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