Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel answered questions from the regional media on the SEC Coaches Teleconference Wednesday.
The Vols’ head coach discussed the challenges of preparing for LSU and Georgia, where South Carolina has improved from last year and much more.
Here’s everything Heupel said ahead of the matchup with the Gamecocks.
Heupel opening statement: Getting ready to go face a really good South Carolina team. A team that has played really well at home. Obviously a big test in all three phases of the game. Special teams, they’ve done a great job of creating a lot of dynamic plays on all of their units. Defensively, strong, physical and offensively, obviously when their quarterback gets hot has a chance to be special. Huge test for us. Night game, big environment. One that everybody inside of our program is looking forward to.
Question: Do you think this game is extra special for Jalin Hyatt since he’s going home and South Carolina didn’t offer him?
Answer: First and foremost, being able to play close to home with obviously a lot of friends and family that have an opportunity to see you play and when you’re playing you have the opportunity to do that. For him, obviously he’s been playing at an elite level and is extremely confident. Those games, those moments are special and I’m sure he’ll have a lot of extra visitors at the ball game. Those are special opportunities when you get to play close to where you’re from.
Q: When you were preparing for LSU and Georgia what did you feel like the strengths of those teams were?
A: Similarities, start with just really good personnel. They’re athletic and that’s skill and size on both sides of the football. Big, strong, physical, athleticism on both lines of scrimmages. Two really good football teams.
Q: Was there anything from a schematic standpoint with how you saw Georgia and LSU play defense?
A: There’s subtleties in what they do. Just as far as scheme, they both match people out out on the perimeter. Willing to play some form of man type coverage. Both do a good job of applying pressure to the quarterback too.
Q: You’ve allowed as many sacks in the last three games as the first seven. Is that something that concerns you and what do you contribute that too?
A: We certainly want to keep Hendon as clean as possible. You’re always— I don’t know if concerned is the right word — but aware of the position you’re putting your offensive line in and trying to get the ball out on time. It takes everybody. It takes all 11. The wide receivers have to go win and be in the right spot at the right time too and Hendon has to read it. All those things play into it. There’s some things we haven’t done well obviously a couple weeks ago. There’s been good personnel too so I don’t want to take anything away from other teams that we’ve played. But at the same time there’s been some things that haven’t been as clean that we have an opportunity to correct. We have a great offensive line. They’re prideful, they care and they’ve been playing at a really high level all year long. Expect them to play their best this week.
Q: Where has South Carolina made the most progress from last year’s matchup until now?
A: I just think in year two of what they’re doing. They’ve continued to grow in all three phases of the game. I think their kids play with a ton of confidence. They’ve made big plays. You look at how they’ve played at home. They’ve played in a really good way. Huge test for us.
Q: How big of a role can special teams play in this game with South Carolina’s prowess there?
A: Special teams always has a huge role in the football game. There’s momentum plays that can happen on your special teams units. Obviously field position is critical. It changes the way the game is played. For us, they’ve been aggressive in fakes and coming after kicks. For us, you have to do your job and know your assignment but you have play with eye discipline and be ready to go play it. Last year, we had a guy that essentially took the play off. You just can’t afford to do that. Our guys, we have great trust in them and believe they’ll handle it in a really great way.
Q: How big of a leader is Byron Young on the defensive side of the football?
A: I think that’s one of the things he’s taken a whole jump from his first year inside of our program into who he is year two. Completely comfortable and confident in himself, his voice. Willing to use it in the defensive line room. Uses it with our defense as well. How he approaches and competes every single day, all of our players see that. He’s a guy that will mentor young guys and kind of help bring them into the fold and cares deeply about his teammates.