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What Josh Heupel, Tennessee Assistant Coaches Said About South Carolina

Rodney Garner
Tennessee DL coach Rodney Garner. Photo By Caleb Jones/Tennessee Athletics.

Tennessee football is just four days away from its critical SEC home opener against South Carolina.

The Vols dropped their SEC opener at Florida two weeks ago and are looking for a critical conference win before their early October open date. South Carolina enters the matchup 2-2 after playing an extremely difficult schedule to open the season.

Needless to say, the week five matchup at Neyland Stadium is extremely important for both teams.

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel, running backs coach Jerry Mack and defensive line coach Rodney Garner met with the media on Monday or Tuesday of South Carolina. Here’s what the three Volunteer assistants said about the Gamecocks.

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Josh Heupel

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 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 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.”

Rodney Garner

On what makes Spencer Rattler so effective on third downs

“Obviously, he’s able to extend plays with his legs. So that is really stressful on a defense, especially a defensive line. We have to make sure we’re very disciplined in our rush lane integrity and also we have to make sure we can finish on top of the rush and get him on the ground. He’s a very good player. You saw what he did last week against Mississippi State. What he did last year against us. We gotta make sure we are disciplined in everything that we do and we have to make sure we try and restrict it and keep him in the pocket.”

On what stands out about South Carolina’s offense besides Rattler

“You got Rattler and you have No. 5 (Dakereon Joyner), the running back, (who) they do everything with. He’s the wildcat guy. He played a lot last year against us in the wildcat position. He can do a lot of good things. No. 17 (Xavier Legette), the wide receiver, is a dynamic player. They have good football players like everybody else in our conference. We have to do a really good job of defending them. We have to play sound Tennessee football and everybody has to do their jobs.”

Jerry Mack

On what stands out about South Carolina’s defense

“The front seven is really good. I’ve been really impressed with the linebacker position. Those guys fly around. They’re really aggressive, physical and you can see the improvement they’ve had in that group from year-to-year over the last few years we’ve been playing them. I think at my position, specifically, we just have to do a really good job of continuing to run with physicality between the tackles. It’s going to be tough, tight runs in those windows and those lanes are going to be smaller as we get into more SEC play. Some of those other games, the gaps that the offensive line is creating is extremely big because of the competition you’re playing. Man, in the SEC it’s not like that. Those gaps, those seems become smaller-and-smaller and when they do open up they close a lot faster just because of the people that we’re playing. We have to do a great job of seeing those, making decisive decisions and accelerating when we get those opportunities.”

On if there’s a specific running back that is a good fit facing South Carolina

“It’s interesting you ask that question because we just had a conversation about that in the meeting room the other day. About how all three of those guys’ (Small, Wright, Sampson) skillset is distinctly different and how we have nothing but trust from our coaching staff. I think all of them, I never know who is going to have the big game. It’s been Jaylen. It’s been Jabari over the years as well. Now you see Sampson emerging. All three of those guys present a different skill set and it’s really just about the flow of the game. There might be an opportunity for Jabari or Samp(son) or whoever to go out there and catch something on the perimeter or break a tackle in the backfield and next thing you know it’s 60, 70 yards because they all have quickness and speed as well. I really don’t ever know who is going to get that opportunity but I can tell you this: we trust them 100%. Whoever goes in the game.”

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