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Everything Josh Heupel Said To Open South Carolina Week

Josh Heupel
Tennessee HC Josh Heupel. Photo via Tennessee Athletics.

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel met with the local media Monday afternoon to kick off South Carolina week as the Vols welcome a SEC East rival to Neyland Stadium Saturday night.

It’s a critical conference game for each team as Tennessee looks to pick up its first win in SEC play while South Carolina looks to avoid its third loss in the opening month of the season.

Heupel discussed the Ganecocks, how his team responded to the Florida loss and much more Monday afternoon. Here’s everything Heupel said.

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Opening statement

“Looking forward to this weekend. Really good opponent that we’re playing. It’s an opportunity for us to open up conference play here at home. Excited to see our fans. Need a great environment on Saturday night, for sure. Also special that we get an opportunity to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our ‘98 National Championship team. Coach Fulmer and the entire crew, welcoming those guys back. Excited that they get a chance to be there for this one too. With that I’ll open it up.”

On if it was good to have UTSA after Florida instead of jumping right back into SEC play

“The schedule is what it is. I thought our preparation was good last week. We went out and did a lot of things really well. There’s still a lot of things we have to correct but we’re excited about this one. Getting back into conference play, it’s why you come here. To play in big time games like this. Really good opponent. They’re good on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The quarterback is playing really well. We have to be our best on Saturday night.”

On if the South Carolina game means more because of last season’s loss

“It’s a new week every week. It’s a new year every year too. Last year, they were more physical than us. They competed harder than we did on that night. We didn’t handle the environment the right way. Those were lessons that had to continue to move forward with us as a program. Last year has nothing to do with this week. Last week has nothing to do with this week. The previous play has nothing to do with the next one. We have to just focus on our preparation and be ready to have a great competitive spirit for four quarters.”

On if Spencer Rattler’s playmaking last year is a constant for him or more of an anomaly 

“He’s a really good player. He’s played at a high level. He’s played a lot of football. He’s playing extremely well right now. He was dynamic in that football game but he has that in his arsenal. For us, the line of scrimmage is important but we have to do a really good job. We have to get them in third-and-longs. Last year, we didn’t get off the field on third-and-longs. Some of that was coverage. Some of that was him extending and making some really special plays. We have to do a great job of bottling him up and applying pressure at the same time.”

On Shane Beamer saying Heupel had to be excited watching South Carolina’s pass defense against Mississippi State

“I got home at the very end of the game. By the time, I wish a 4 o’clock game I got home early. I don’t between recruiting and knocking out some of the media things I have to do. I didn’t get home until the very end. They’re a good football team. They’ve lost a couple of close ones. They played really well on the road at Georgia in all three phases of the football game. They lost a close one to (North) Carolina. This is a really good football team.”

On how he knew his team would respond well against UTSA

“I don’t think there was just one thing. I do think they had great intentionality in the way they prepared all week long. They had really good practices Tuesday, Wednesday. Followed that up (by) finishing up the right way on Thursday and Friday. Today, I challenged our guys (with) what are the things you have to stop doing in your preparation because they aren’t helping you and what are the things that you have to continue to do and what are the things that you have to up your game at. I think that’s important for everybody inside of our program.”

On if they have tweaked anything to improve tempo

“Yeah, we really haven’t done a bunch of checks to the sideline. Joe (Milton) controls most of the football game for us and that’s been true since we got here. That’s not really something that has slowed us down typically.”

On if there’s more parity in the SEC this season

“I think college football in general, in this league, every Saturday is its own entity. And your preparation, a play here or there that turns the momentum in the football game a little bit. It’s fine-lines, man. You gotta show up, you gotta be prepared, you gotta have a great competitive spirit. You gotta play extremely hard and you gotta do the ordinary things at a really high level. In this league and across college football, there’s a a ton of parity. When I say that the separation is really thin. So, you gotta be on the right side of it.”

On how he’s seen Elijah Herring grow at linebacker the last couple of games

“A guy that played a lot of football for us on special teams a year ago. Has continued to develop at the linebacker position. When he first got here, in high school he played on the first level. So, he’s continued to progress with his ability to have his eyes in the right spot. See pullers, get to the right gap and continues to do a better job of tackling. He’s violent, he’s disruptive, he cares, he practices hard, he’s got the right makeup.”

On Joe Milton’s status after taking an awkward hit against UTSA

“I can’t believe it took that long to get that question. For us, I know there’s a picture out there, for us routinely on Sunday we’re going to make sure our players are healthy. We have a diagnosis inside with our doctors. But we’re going to make sure medically they check in on him as well. Joe has been good, feels good. Is with us today so anticipate him being ready to go play really well.”

On having a night game at Neyland Stadium and the importance of the crowd in this game

“Yeah, home field advantage matters. We need energy and momentum. Need to make it extremely difficult for them to communicate. For us, our fans need to be a huge part of this football game. They have been every Saturday that I’ve been here. Can’t wait. Expect to be a lot more boats tied up on the river this week and expect Vol Walk to be electric and cannot wait for the noise and the energy inside of the stadium.”

On the challenge with Spencer Rattler completing 74% of his passes this season

“Has played a bunch of football. He understands coverages, sees rotations. He takes himself to the right spot based on the coverage and the beaters that they have up on their schemes. He’s got the ability to extend and make plays with his feet. He’s accurate with the football. You’ve got to do a great job. You’ve got to control the line of scrimmage. You’ve got to apply pressure to him. You can’t let him out of the pocket, at the same time. When he does scramble, you’ve got to match the personnel out in space. He created a bunch of big plays against us last year outside of the pocket. He’s a really good football player that poses a problem. We’ve got to do a really good job up front and on the second and third levels in our coverage.”

On the play of young receivers Kaleb Webb and Chas Nimrod

“Yeah, they did (play a bunch of snaps). Saturday was a great opportunity for those guys to get more reps than they had early in the season. I think I said it last week that we had planned on playing those guys some more. I really liked what they did. There’s a little bit where we can be a little bit better between quarterback and wide receiver on some of the downfield passing. We’re close on it. We’ve got to go hit those things this week, but I like what they did. Competitive. Played fundamentals and technique. Played hard.”

On how Tennessee has played on special teams so far this season

“Special teams, like some of the things that I was talking about offensively, you can’t do the things that hurt you that change the field position, change the momentum of the football game. We’ve got to clean up a couple of those things that everybody saw on Saturday. At the same time, we’re playing extremely hard, playing with great fundamentals. I liked some of our eye discipline in it, so there’s some real positives, too.”

On South Carolina’s special teams

“They’re aggressive. You’re going to see fakes. You’re going to see them try to create an extra possession on special teams. Their cover units are really solid. We’ve got to do a really good job in that phase of the game this week.”

On what stands out about South Carolina’s defense

“Physical. Their safeties are heavily active in the run game. A year ago, they hurt us in some of our protections as well, defeated us in some one-on-one situations. Big, strong, physical. Long at corner. They’re playing good defense.”

On what impressed him about Dylan Sampson’s response to getting no carries against Florida

“Dylan’s a great teammate in here. Yeah, he wanted more touches for sure the previous week and for whatever reason we just didn’t get that done, but he’s the same guy inside of the building. Competitive and cares and embraces every role that we put him in. He competes for those roles, too. But he’s dynamic and the things that he does at the line of scrimmage that are real subtle, pressing the aiming points, delivering a center-guard, guard-tackle combination to the second level, being able to feel things that are happening on the backside of the run when it’s fast-flow over the top to be able to come out the backside – those are all really special. Everybody sees his gift when he gets the third level to make people miss, the ability and speed to take it the distance, but it’s the things that he does early in the run that give him the ability to get to that spot.”

On his assessment of Tennessee’s offensive line so far this season

“Yeah, some really good things. Some of the efficiency in the run game. There’s been times where we’ve pass-protected extremely well, too. At the end of the day, we’ve got to continue to get better in that area, keep the quarterback clean and be able to make some plays down the football field.”

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