Tennessee coach Josh Heupel answered questions on the SEC Coaches Teleconference on Wednesday morning before the Vols host No. 1 Georgia at Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Heupel discussed the Bulldogs, how the transfer portal does and doesn’t change how he coaches and much more. Here’s everything the Vols’ third-year coach said on Wednesday.
“Hope everybody is having a great day. Team’s excited about the opportunity. When we first came back on Monday, obviously disappointed about the performance over the weekend. Love the energy and focus that they’ve had so far. We understand the quality of opponent that we’re getting ready to face. When you look at Georgia, first of all they have really good personnel in all three phases of the game. They play extremely smart. They play hard. They’re physical. Their line of scrimmage on both sides is really good. Defensively, you look at their ability and the way they defend the run but they have great personnel on the back end. Over the course of this ball game we’re going to have to win some one-on-one matchups out on the perimeter. That’s also true in the core. Offensively, you look at them and they’re operating as efficiently and explosively as anyone in the country. Great playmakers out on the perimeter. They’ve gotten some of their best skill players back and healthy. Quarterback is playing extremely well and is a great decision maker. He controls a lot at the line of scrimmage in really everything that they’re doing. Their ability to maintain and have balance offensively is something that’s critical and a big part of their success. We have to do a great job of deafening them and their special teams have been really good as well. Excited to get back home. It’s been a while since we had a conference game inside of our stadium. Looking forward to this one on Saturday afternoon with our guys.”
On Georgia’s offensive progression over the course of the season
“Their ability to operate efficiently in everything that they’re doing offensively is a huge part of it. The numbers are right. They have the ability to run the football. They are explosive on the outside. The quarterback is extremely accurate with the football. First time starter for them at quarterback and that typically means that those guys continue to grow over the course of the season and he certainly has. I think the fact that they’re getting close to being 100% (healthy) with their skill players too has allowed them to continue to grow offensively as well with the pieces around him (Carson Beck). They’re a really good football team. They were good at the beginning of the year. They’ve continued to get better over the course of the season. That’s what good teams do and they certainly represent that.”
On if he and his staff have changed the way they approach trying to keep players happy given the transfer portal
“I just think from the time that I started or even when I was playing to know, the relationships, being engaged with them consistently, not just on the practice field. It’s important to them being at their best, so I think just naturally that’s a big part of it. I don’t think it changes the way that you coach, the things that you demand from them. If you do any of that, then you’re doing your program a disservice. I think it’s important that young guys, even in the recruiting process, you’re finding guys that understand there’s a process to the growth of becoming the player that you want to be. It doesn’t just happen. So having those conversations, making sure they’re getting reps in practice so they see that they’re having an opportunity to improve is certainly, extremely important as well.”
On what he expects from the crowd at Neyland Stadium on Saturday and what he thinks the crowd is capable of doing
“I expect it to be as an electric atmosphere as we’ve ever had there, which is as good as there is in college football. Crowd noise can have a factor in the football game if you don’t do things, control the controllables, and operate and communicate effectively during the course of the game. Some of that happened to us last year. We need to make it extremely difficult for them to communicate. That needs to be a part of the football game and I certainly expect to see our crowd ready for this one when we kick off.”
On if he can sense from the seniors that they’re starting to feel that their career is starting to come to an end and this is a big one
“I think you can sense that this is a big one because of who we’re playing in this one. Our guys have been great, they’ve been resilient really from the time I got here. We’ve got guys that are extremely competitive, focused and compete hard and practice the right way. The leadership that we have on the team is a big part of that. You mentioned Jacob Warren. He’s been a dynamic leader for us. Certainly this year, but even before that, too. This is the next one that we have inside of our home stadium and it’s the only opportunity that we have this week, so we need to take full advantage of it and I believe our guys are focused.”
On the season-ending injuries to linebackers Arion Carter and Keenan Pili, and the depth issues that has caused
“I certainly wish we had those two guys with us during this journey this year. Two really good football players. Unfortunate with KP and it happening as early in the season as it did. AC’s injury is an old injury that kind of snuck up on him and looking forward to getting AC healthy.
“But I like the guys that we have inside of that room. They’ve been urgent in their preparation. There’s some things that we have to get better at, but we’re going to need all those guys on Saturday afternoon. This is going to be a really physical football game.”