Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel met with the local media on Monday afternoon to kick off Missouri week. The Vols head to Columbia Saturday to host a top 15 Missouri team.
Heupel discussed the growth of Tennessee’s receivers, Missouri’s accomplished offense and much more. Here’s everything Heupel said on Monday.
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“Veterans Day and just want to acknowledge everybody that has and is serving our country. We, and I, appreciate everything that you’re doing, your sacrifices that you make and have made and continue to make for your family as well.
“Big game this week. Really good football team that we have an opportunity to play. You look at what they’re doing in all three phases of the game, they’re playing extremely well. Look at their results throughout the course of the season, continue to play smart physical football, both sides of the line, scrimmage in particular. And it will be a huge test for us. So looking forward to seeing Vol Nation show up. They’ve been awesome on the road this week, or this year. We certainly want to see a lot of orange when we get there in Columbia too. So appreciate everybody making that trip.”
On the emphasis on the SEC being a line-of-scrimmage league and Tennessee having success offensively in the run game and defensively stopping the run
“Just the growth from our program, where we started to where we are now. It starts with personnel, having good players on the line of scrimmage. We have guys that have played a lot of football on both sides of the line of scrimmage too, that have continued to get better. We’ve had an influx of some young guys that are dynamic and changed the way the game’s played. And then with all that being said, you talk about (defensive) lineman and offensive lineman, the other position groups, have a great effect on that too. Offensively, your tight ends, the growth of our running backs, the quarterback being involved in that.
“And then defensively, you look at our linebackers and safeties, how they’re playing, being able to tie all three levels of the defense in together. I think that’s been a huge part of growth of our program since we arrived here. And we’re gonna need that here as we continue through this journey this season. In particular this week, we look at Missouri, they’re extremely good up front, running back is dynamic. I think he leads the league in rushing. And obviously for us all offensively, we gotta maintain balance.
On the importance of some Tennessee players getting rest against UConn
“Yeah, opportunity for them to get completely healthy here. They all had an opportunity, would’ve been available if we felt like we needed to. But just lucky not to play in that game. Will be big to have all those guys back and fresh and ready to roll.”
On his takeaways from the UConn game after watching film
“Biggest thing, I talked about it with our team today in the team meeting. Was really proud of whoever stepped in, the way they competed, how hard they played, but also how well they played within our schemes and the fundamentals. Didn’t matter who was in the game, they went out there and played at a really high level. That was true defensively, special teams and offensively. To finish the game the way that we did, it’s probably one of the best finishes in the game like that, where you got a lot of guys in, that I’ve had in my coaching career.”
On what he’s seen from Missouri quarterback Brady Cook
“He’s smart, he’s accurate with the football and he is athletic. Has the ability to affect the game with his feet. And we gotta do a great job in the pass game. We gotta affect him, not let him be comfortable in the pocket while doing that. You cannot let him escape the pocket. He’ll be dynamic and make big plays with his feet and his arm as he breaks contain. And then he’s obviously a part of their run game too.”
On Tennessee freshman Rickey Gibson III saying the game is slowing down for him
“It will continue to slow down for him as he continues to grow as a player. It’s just the evolution of being a young player and understanding everything that’s going on around you. That’s understanding what the guys around you defensively are doing, their responsibilities, but understanding formation, route concepts, understanding the fits, being able to go out there and play instead of having to think. He’s dynamic, really athletic, competitive, willing to stick his face in the fan in the run game, too. And on perimeter screens, go tackle. Love the growth that we’ve seen from him and a lot of those young DBs. I thought they all did a really nice job when he got in on Saturday.”
On Missouri receiver Luther Burden, the Tigers’ offensive balance
“Yeah, you gotta be really good in the run game because everything will play off of that too. They create a lot of big plays with chunk plays, design shots down the football field. He’s a really good player. And when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s difficult to bring down. They do a good job of moving him around too, where you gotta track where he is at … they try to find matchups for him. So we gotta do a great job against him. But he’s not the only wide receiver. They got a really good core group of wide receivers that are doing that.”
On how much fun it was to see Nico Iamaleava’s teammates all want to celebrate with him after he threw his first touchdown pass
“Yeah, your first one’s always a big one. As an individual player for Nico and then for the guys around him too, to be excited for him and what he did. That’s offensive line, skill guys. It’s Joe (Milton), it’s everybody. They see the work that he puts in, the type of player that he is and that was a big moment for him.”
On Tennessee running its normal offense when it empties the bench
“There are times where you need to slow it down. In that football game, our guys haven’t had an opportunity to play the way that we play, and so I thought it was important to be able to evaluate them, but for them to also have the experience of playing how we play. That can be backup quarterbacks and Nico. It can be Gaston (Moore). It can be your young offensive linemen. It’s one of their first game experiences. So for us to evaluate them, for them to have the opportunity to grow, knowing that you’re gonna need some of those guys here for the next few weeks, just think it’s really important to let those guys go play.”
On Missouri having its best year under Eliah Drinkwitz
“At the end of the day, they’re a good football team. They play well in all three phases. They’re smart, tough and competitive. That’s why they’ve played the way they have throughout the course of the season. You can tell, tell that they’re prepared every single week. We know that we’re gonna get their best and, and it’s our job to make sure that we’re at our best too.”
On Elijah Simmons’ performance against UConn
“Just a guy’s continued to get healthy here, got banged up on the back end of training camp. He’s been out there, he’s competed well. But I think he’s at his best physically, and so he was dynamic in the run game. You look at the short yardage play, I believe the ball on the two-yard line. Does a great job getting off, essentially blowing up the A gap, making it bubble. You know, we got James and Tyler out on the outside that make the play when the ball bounces. He did a good job of being violent, disruptive in the pass game too, chasing the quarterback. (He) Probably played his best football. I think most of all, it’s indicative of him being his healthiest.”
On the challenge of defending a balanced offense like Tennessee’s
“I think when you are balanced it forces the defense to defend the entire field all of the time. And to do that, you gotta be good upfront. You gotta have a quarterback that’s a good decision maker. You gotta have good skilled guys. We’re fortunate we’ve continued to grow and are starting to play some of our best ball and most consistent in particular, out on the perimeter. Um, But every Saturday is a different challenge based on structures and what you’re seeing from the defense and their personnel and how you gotta attack it.”
On there being only five SEC players projected to go in the first round of NFL Draft, impact of transfer portal
“The draft’s a long ways away, I would assume at the end of this year, this league has a lot of people drafted, and I base that off of the film that I watch every single week. There’s dynamic players that are gonna be playing on Sundays in this league. I kind of view it this way. You look at the 11 guys on offense, defense and special teams, almost all those guys will end up being in the NFL in some form or fashion. The older guys you can tell are older. The younger guys are, are younger and are gonna grow into that, but this league’s littered with talent.”
On Missouri’s defense
“Fast, aggressive, tackle extremely well. Play a bunch of man on the outside, they’re gonna make you earn it. You look at them statistically, defensively, playing the run extremely well and are one of the top teams in the country in creating sacks. They got really good players up front. They do it with pressure, but the first, second and third levels are tied in together extremely well.”
On how the perimeter receivers have developed and improved the passing offense
“I wish there was some, you know, special recipe that we put together. Just continued growth throughout the course of the season, guys understanding their jobs, continuing to grow in it. We’ve had moving pieces. Guys have played inside, played outside. At the end of the day, feel like they’re at their most comfortable that they’ve been in understanding our schemes, what they’re seeing on the other side. Being on the same page with Joe. Comes down to execution.”
On the importance of getting Gaston Moore and Navy Shuler playing time against UConn
“I just think it’s important for guys that work and compete all year long. When they get an opportunity, that they get in the football game, it’s great to see those guys play at a really high level. Those guys are instrumental in who we are as a program and you love getting an opportunity to play whoever, however many guys you can based on the score of the game.”