Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel fielded questions on the SEC Coaches Teleconference on Wednesday before the Vols hit the road to take on No. 14 Missouri in Columbia.
Heupel discussed his time as offensive coordinator at Missouri, Ollie Lane’s versatility and much more. Here’s everything Heupel said on Wednesday.
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“This is a really good football team that we’re getting ready to play this week in Columbia, Missouri. (I) Know it’s going to be a really good atmosphere there. Been really pointed with our players to understand the challenge that we have this week. You look at what they’re doing in all three phases of the football game, they play complimentary football. They’ve won a lot of different ways. Their special teams have made the difference in football games. Offensively, they’ve got dynamic playmakers out on the perimeter. Their quarterback is playing as well as anybody. He’s doing that in the pass game and he’s used it quite a bit in the run game. He’s dynamic with his feet as well and their offensive line does a tremendous job of, one, creating seems for ‘em but opening up the run game as well. So defensively, you look at them statistically, they’re playing extremely well against the run. They’re forcing people into a lot of third-and-long situations. They’ve been able to get home and affect the quarterback or sack the quarterback in those types of situations. Will be a huge test for us this week. We’ve had really good practices and preparation up until this point. Will be critical that we continue to prepare the right way, understanding the quality of opponent we have this week.”
On receiver coach Kelsey Pope’s growth as a coach
“There were challenges last year as well. Obviously, we’ve had some moving pieces with Bru going out and guys that were injured in the early part of even training camp and some guys have been battling through injury throughout the course of the season. We’re at our healthiest that we’ve been at in a while now in that room. The thing that I love about Kelsey is that he’s the same guy every single day. He expects our players to prepare and practice extremely well but he’s a great teacher and he’s somebody that throughout everybody’s football journey has been able to challenge guys but also bring confidence to guys as they’re continuing to grow as players. That’s been really important with some of the youth we’ve had at that position. Guys that are young in their careers here or guys that are young as far as just getting here to Tennessee. Starting to learn and grow in the things we need those guys to do. Part of the reason that he’s here is just who he is and how he handles every situation with our players.”
On the importance of IOL Ollie Lane’s versatility
“I don’t think you can overstate the value that he’s had to this football team during his career. Certainly this year, his flexibility to put his hand on the ball, play center, move to guard. A year ago, he would show up at right guard. He’s played all three interior spots since we’ve arrived here and he’s done it at a really high level. A guy that it means a lot to him to be able to strap the power T helmet on. Somebody that cares deeply about the program. Living a dream out. You can see his family, they travel to really every single football game. You can see how much it means to him. I think that’s important that you have me like that inside of your locker room.”
On his time at Missouri as an offensive coordinator
“When I think back to that time period, I think about the people first and foremost. A lot of people that were influential. Still have a lot of those people that are with me. Former players that played there. Young coaches that have been with me over the last six years. What we were able to build there from when we took it over to where we left it, really proud of what we did. And that only happens because you have quality people that are extremely competitive, but care about the people around them and there’s a lot of those players that I’m still in contact with that I see frequently or hear from frequently. It’s one of the great stops on my journey.”
On what he saw from Missouri against Georgia last week
“They’re smart, they’re competitive, they play extremely hard, they make you earn it, they’re going to hurt you from their perspective offensively if you’re not dialed into your alignment, assignment and technique. They’re going to play for 60 minutes. They play smart football. They’re special teams has the ability to affect the football game. It’s an extremely confident group that’s playing for them right now.”
On if his daughter draws up plays for him
“She’s a little like my wife in that she’ll draw up a trick play pretty much every single weekend for me or point it out on some replay. She’s dialed into the football side of it for sure. It’s one of the great things, having her along my side usually at Vol Walk. She’s there pretty much every week and certainly getting a chance to see on the field after a ball game — time goes quick and coaches that have sons or daughters understand that, it always does, but it’s been fun watching her continue to grow and become really competitive in some of the things that she cares about, but also, she cares deeply about this program and love having her around.”