Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel met with the local media on Monday afternoon to put a bow on the Vols’ loss against No. 1 Georgia and to open up Vanderbilt week.
Do to Thanksgiving, Heupel’s Monday press conference is the only time he’ll talk to the media this week. The Vols’ third-year head coach discussed transfer portal decisions, his senior class and much more.
Here’s everything Heupel said.
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“Happy Thanksgiving to everybody’s family. Hope you guys have a great holiday weekend. Salute to service game this week as well, so I want to thank everybody for everything that they do, give us the opportunity to do what we do. And Senior Day as well. So a lot of special guys that have been here, stayed the course, helped put the pillars of this program together, put it back in place. And a lot of guys are extremely special, so need to send them out the right way. This is our last opportunity in the regular season. Need to go finish it the right way inside of Neyland Stadium. Guys need to get ready to go play.”
On how special this group of Tennessee seniors is to him after sticking with the Vols through transition
“Well, I just think, as a senior, it, it hits you and it hits you in the face really quickly that it would be your last time inside of that stadium. And it’s a really special group of guys that have been through some uncertainty during the course of the program (and) chose to stay when I arrived. A lot of these guys have been instrumental in helping turn the culture and turn our program around. It’s a special group — how they’ve performed but also just who they are as people. I’m really proud of them.”
On how to balance the uncertainty of which seniors could be leaving the Tennessee program and those that could decided to come back for another year
“Yeah, guys that are senior that are potentially exhausting their eligibility, and or are graduating, have the opportunity to walk, I think it’s important that you keep the main thing, the main thing, which is Saturday afternoon performing against Vanderbilt on the back end of the season. You want guys to make the right choice for them, their families, their future. And so you have conversations with them. You also try to help provide information to them and make sure that they’re putting themselves in the right position for their future on the field and off.”
On the difference running against a three-man defensive front instead of a traditional four-man front
“Yeah, three-down fronts can vary too in the fundamentals and technique and how they play it. Sometimes your matchups are different based on the type of techniques that they’re playing. So schematically sometimes your schemes are gonna vary because of the spacing and how you create grass. And you gotta be able to adjust to what you’re seeing or what you’re preparing for on tape.”
On the injury status of Tennessee offensive tackles John Campbell and Gerald Mincey
“Hope to have both of those guys available in this. We’ll kind of see how they go through the week and where they’re at before we get to kickoff. But certainly hope to have those guys better.”
On the injury status of Tennessee right guard Javontez Spraggins
“Sprags will be out the remainder of the season. Unfortunate injury to a guy that pours into his teammates. Has great energy, competes extremely hard, plays really hard, continue to get better as a player. And disappointed for him, certainly.”
On what is preventing this Tennessee team from executing at a high level on offense
“The football game the other day, I said it afterwards, we played hard, we played smarter football too, um, fewer penalties and we were cleaner than we had been. The game, you can look at once stat, we look at third downs in particular. Getting you to the next set of downs, so mainly able to convert. A lot of that was in man-to-man situations and make plays. Offensively we were not able to do that, not able to sustain anything.
On Jaylen Wright being so productive as a running back but not having a huge workload, if he would like to see him get more carries
“A little bit, a little bit of both. We’ve got a good stable of backs. I do think they complement each other. And at the end of the game we typically try to go with a guy that’s got a hot hand. Jaylen’s been fantastic all year long. He’s created some huge plays for us and we’re gonna need that in this football game as well. But you try to balance all of that.”
On if he sets a hard deadline for players to decide whether they’ll return or leave after the season
“I think at the end of the day, the guys gotta be ready to make the decision either way, right? If you try to rush or pressure them into that they end up in a situation where they maybe make the wrong one. At the end of the day, you gotta be where your feet are and I’m talking about for the next calendar year. So you provide information to ’em. Some of it takes longer as you’re trying to gather NFL information for those guys too.”
On a moment where these seniors have mentored younger players
“Man, Jacob Warren. how he embraced Callie (McCallan Castles) as soon as he set foot on campus. Being out on the field, in the meeting room, putting in extra work with him. A guy that really helped bring him along extremely quickly.”
On injury update on Tamarion McDonald, Jourdan Thomas and Wesley Walker
“We were hoping that TMac would be ready to go (against Georgia). As we went through warmups, he just wasn’t in a position to play. Hope to have those guys ready to go on this one.
On if that includes Wesley Walker
“Yeah. Wesley’s probably more questionable than the other guys.”
On not playing multiple running backs on the field at the same time
“Just, you know, who we are, how we put the game plan together and we’ve had thoughts of doing that. Just at the end of the day, having decided to go that direction.”
On what stands out about Vanderbilt
“Listen, they’ve had two weeks of preparation. Opportunity to get healthy. This is an in state game. This is a big game for them. It’s a big game for us too, and we need to go finish it. Gotta play physical. You gotta win at the line of scrimmage. I just mentioned it— we got to win some one-on-ones in this one too.”
On how the attitude has been within the team with the disappointing last two weeks
“Attitude was good. Disappointed, which is what you expect and what you would want on a Monday morning as you go back and review the film with them before you get out on the grass. This is a prideful group. I’ve said that we haven’t always played, you know, what we think as well as we think we can at certain portions of football games. Disappointed with last week’s result certainly, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of work that goes into it from the time they stepped foot back on campus in January. This is our next opportunity. We need to go take full advantage of it. Once we got out on the grass today I liked the energy from him.”
On the milestone of Jaylen Wright potentially being a 1,000 yard rusher
“Well, for him, just his growth as a player, 8the work that he’s put into it to be in a position to obtain that I think is important to him. He probably wouldn’t say that if he was up here, but I certainly would say it for him. Proud of a young guy that when we got here was a fast kid that just tried to run around everybody. Now he’s got great patience, great vision, and still has the home run speed to take it the distance.”
On the benefit of leaders being healthy and on the field
“It does matter that you’re in the action or you’re out on the field with those guys during the course of a drive. But you still have influence, still have impact when you’re outside of it. Some of those guys aren’t out at practice the entire time, so you miss them during portions of that too. We’ve had some guys that have had surgery, so you know, they’ve been gone for an extended period of time. You miss that energy inside your position room when they’re gone.”
On the inconsistencies in the passing game against Georgia
“End of the day execution. We got a tip ball from a frontline defender on a critical play. We’re not accurate with the football or don’t come down with the catch and in one of the man to man situations. All of those things parlay itself into not being as efficient and effective as you need to be during the course of that game.”
On what makes making in game adjustments challenging
“Well, if structures are different, during the course of a drive you don’t have an opportunity to get with your guys. As the drive ends, you get a chance to, you know, go back and draw it up for ’em and try to get ’em on the same page. But,at the end of the day, that’s why it’s important that the guys that you have out there can see, recognize, and identify what’s going on on the other side of the football.”