Quotes: Heupel & Players – Vols Turn Attention To Primetime Clash With Ole Miss

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Looking for its third-straight victory in conference play, the Tennessee football program turned the page to Week 7 and began preparations Monday for No. 13/14 Ole Miss to visit Knoxville this weekend. The Vols and Rebels will square off under the lights on Saturday night, with kickoff from Neyland Stadium set for 7:30 p.m. ET on SEC Network.
 
In his opening comments to the media on Monday, head coach Josh Heupel discussed the team’s review of film from the 45-20 victory over South Carolina and called upon Vol Nation to create an imposing atmosphere when the Rebels come to Rocky Top Saturday night.
 
“I’m looking forward to an electric atmosphere this weekend,” Heupel said. “We need everybody in orange and white at the stadium. Be there early, be loud and make it a hostile environment for the opponent that’s coming in.”
 
Saturday’s matchup will feature the Power Five’s two most up-tempo offenses. Ole Miss is averaging 2.89 offensive plays per minute (No. 2 FBS), while UT puts up 2.87 plays per minute (No. 3 FBS). The Rebels and Vols are averaging 1.75 and 1.58 points per minute, respectively, which also ranks second and third in the FBS.
 
Tennessee’s head coach has familiarity with Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who worked under Heupel at UCF as quarterbacks coach in 2018 before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2019.
 
“Jeff does a great job, was our quarterbacks’ coach at UCF when I first got the job there,” Heupel said. “He’s a highly competitive guy, does a great job. You can see offensively that there’s a rhyme and a reason behind everything they’re doing. They’re going to put defenses in a conflict. Up-tempo, similar to what we do … They do a great job of being balanced and creating big plays, too.”
 
Tickets for Saturday’s clash with the Rebels are on sale now at AllVols.com.
 
The full transcript of Heupel’s Monday press conference as well as quotes from senior defensive back Alontae Taylor and senior offensive lineman Jerome Carvin can be seen below.

Vols HC Josh Heupel / Credit: UT Athletics

Head Coach Josh Heupel

Opening statement…
“Good afternoon, everybody. Great day in the building with the guys. Great energy. Obviously, they know the challenge that we have here at the end of the week. It’s an opportunity for us to point out a lot of positives the other day. I thought we played extremely hard, played smart for a good portion of the football game and had some young guys that had their first action on an offensive or defensive unit that took advantage of those opportunities and played extremely well. I’m proud to see that, great learning lesson for all our guys inside of our program. Then there were things that we have an opportunity to correct, too. I think guys took coaching on that side and the coaches took the coaching too. All of us got a chance to get better and we’re going to need to be better as we go into this stretch because Ole Miss is a really good football team. I’m looking forward to an electric atmosphere this weekend. We need everybody in orange and white at the stadium, be there early, be loud and make it a hostile environment for the opponent that’s coming in. A really good football team that we’re facing, in all three phases. Obviously, offensively, their quarterback [Matt Corral] is a special player and has done a tremendous job, this season in particular, but last season as well. He’s a dynamic playmaker and we got to make it tough on him all night long. Got to do a great job of bottling him up as well.”
 
On his familiarity with Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby…
“Jeff does a great job. (He) was our quarterbacks’ coach at UCF when I first got the job there. He’s a highly competitive guy, does a great job. You can see offensively that there’s a rhyme and a reason behind everything they’re doing. They’re going to put defenses in a conflict. Up-tempo, similar to what we do and I think we are the top two teams as far as plays per minute in power five football. They do a great job of being balanced and creating big plays too. It starts with the quarterback but they’re really efficient in the run game, him being a part of that as well. He does great job on scrambles too, so even though you want to push the pocket on him, you have to do a great job of bottling him up and they have special playmakers on the outside too.”
 
On how analytics plays a part in his in-game decisions…
“It’s a part of what we do, for sure. As soon as I became a head coach, we started looking into that, used it when I first got there (UCF), and still use it. A lot of it is that gives you parameters, (but) at the end of the day you still go with situational football and what the flow of the game is and where you feel like you’re – offense, defense and special teams – to make the final decision.”
 
On how similar Ole Miss and Tennessee’s offenses are…
“There’s similarities. Everywhere you go your offense is going to be different based on the personnel. What I’ve done at Missouri to UCF to here is different just based on your personnel and year-to-year with your personnel too. The overall structure is similar in that you’re trying to put people in conflict, you’re trying to play with tempo and use that as a weapon against the defense.”
 
On Juwan Mitchell’s status…
“Juwan, of the guys that weren’t able to play last week, he is the one guy that won’t be with us on Saturday. I believe a majority of them have an opportunity to get back and play for us. Juwan will be out for the rest of the season. (He) had shoulder surgery so he will not be with us.”
 
On the how the pass protection has been picking blitzes this year…
“At times we’ve been highly efficient. At times we haven’t. There were a few the other day that (we didn’t pick up). It’s a combination of the offensive line, tight ends at times being in the protection too, and running backs. We’ve been really solid at times with all those positions and at other times we’ve been deficient. We need to be better and can be better.”
 
On injury statuses for players that missed last week’s game…
“Believe that all the guys that were not able to play this past week will have an opportunity to be back with us this week.”
 
On approaching that next man up mentality…
“Guys know they have to step up when they’re in there getting those reps. At times you don’t know, Brandon (Turnage) didn’t know until the very end of the week that he was going to be the guy. It’s who you are and what you’re about every day inside your building and we talked a lot about if you’re not overly excited about what your role was this past week, you got to keep investing. The more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it. Brandon’s a great example of being prepared when his opportunity came, and he’s done a great job on special teams. Gets an opportunity last Saturday to start, does a great job in alignment, assignment, technique and communication, playing with great effort, and then doing a great job in tackling in space.”

On how Hendon has progressed as a quarterback…
“Confidence, comfort, decision-making, taking care of the football, all that comes with some time on task inside of the offense. Whether it’s check and run-run, check and run-pass, whether it’s RPO [Run-Pass Option] game, whether it’s drop back, better decision making. The more time you have in it, the more comfort you have. The ability to handle and play within himself while we’re playing with tempo, all those things. He’s become a better, more vocal, more ownership on the football field and in the locker with our team as well.”
 
On if he feels like the linebackers are improving each week…
“Yeah, for sure. I feel like we’re doing that at every position too as you go through the season. Good teams, good players get better as you go through the season. It’s why your practice habits are extremely important. You’re going to gain reps during the course of a game too and learn from all those situations you’re in. Like what those guys have done, their ability to recognize formations, communicate, get second and third level and first level all in sync. Done a really good job in some of the pressures. The other day we let one get out at quarterback. We can be better there and pinning the QB in, understanding the situation. But overall, I like what they’ve done.”
 
 On Brandon Turnage being named SEC Defensive Player of the Week and what he saw from him on Saturday…
“Congratulations to him. But a young man that since he’s come in the building, he’s had great work habits and has continued to invest and battled a little bit of injury during training camp which set his timetable back maybe just a little bit. Guy’s done a good job on the special teams when given the opportunity, has continued to invest, has great knowledge, ability to play multiple spots. (He) gets his opportunity last Saturday. Smart, competitive and played with great effort and played with great technique. Proud of what he did on Saturday.”
 
On defensive execution since the beginning of the season…
“I think we continue to get better. Fewer missed assignments, we’re better on our communication. I think our ability to be multiple has been important in our success. I think our guys have a better grasp of the technique, in particular in our front seven and we’ve had some young guys have to play, in particular on the back end. Those guys have stepped in and done a really nice job too. I think there’s just as you go through the season, in particular your first season, there’s more comfort and understanding of what you’re doing, ability to go out and perform at a higher level.    
 
On calling plays in anticipation of high scoring game…
“I don’t think you want to go into this one just assuming that it’s gonna be a race for points. Every game is going to unfold differently. You’ve got to play situational football and you want to make sure you’re getting the first first down, moving the football, but you know the game will unfold as it kind of unfolds. Each game has its own identity a little bit.”
 
On the second half struggles in the South Carolina game…
“Not taking anything away from them, but a lot of ownership on our side of things that we didn’t do that needs to be better for us to perform at a higher level. Simple things, like really simple things, that we did in the first half that we didn’t do in the second half. I talked about after the game kind of being on that competitive edge and being on the right side of it. There’s a really fine line and we were not on the right side of that. That’s why your focus isn’t where it needs to be and all of a sudden some simple, everyday, ordinary things that you need to be doing weren’t done at the level that we need them to be done at.”
 
On Theo Jackson and Brandon Turnage’s versatility…
“Yeah, they both do have the ability to move to multiple spots and perform at a really high level.”
 
On why he thought his type of system would have a lot of success…
“I’ve been a part of tempo dating back to 2008 at Oklahoma. We played in the Fiesta Bowl and got beat by West Virginia and made a transition that offseason from 2007 to 2008 with a bunch of guys who were returning. So, we’ve played with tempo at different times in the offenses. Some of it just based on your personnel, experience with the quarterback and what you felt like the head coach may have felt like the style of play between the three phases, what he wanted that to be. Tempo is a form of pressure that you can apply on a defense. You know, the last five years in particular we’ve ran at a pretty regular pace, I guess. Offensively, it’s a portion of what we do. It has the ability to stress a defense. Our spacing has the ability to do that too. I think it helps your five guys up front during the course of play too. So, you incorporate that into your game when you can.”
 
On the challenges Ole Miss presents defensively…
“They’re playing with six DB’s, a multiple and what you’re seeing on the back end and then their fits too. They’ve done a great job of creating turnovers as far as fumbles, you know what I mean? They do a great job of ripping it out and punching it. They haven’t given up a ton of big time, over the top plays. Play soft on the backend of it a little bit so they make you snap it again and again. You know for us offensively, we’ve got to be highly efficient. It starts for us in the run game and then got to be able to make plays out on the perimeter.”
 
On familiarity with Lane Kiffin from his time at FAU…
“For sure, you understand that he’s going to be aggressive in certain situations. Playing with four downs quite a bit on both sides of the football field. I think defensively, our players and our coaches certainly need to understand that going into the football game. Does a good job with his personnel finding ways to put them in a position to be successful. He’s done it with a lot of different styles of offense.”
 
On if he foresaw the team’s older wide receivers taking the next step in their careers this season…
“I thought Cedric (Tillman) really continued to grow. I think I spoke to him during spring ball – each third of spring ball, the first five, second five and third five (practices). You saw him make a real jump in who he was as a player. His work ethic, his attention to detail, being in the meeting room and spending extra time has allowed him to really grow and gain confidence and that’s showed in the way that he’s played. When JaVonta (Payton) got here, we felt like he would have an opportunity to help us athletically. His experience inside of the league, we felt like that would allow him to grow pretty quickly. It was how fast he was going to grasp what we were doing offensively. He’s done a really good job there. Velus (Jones Jr.) had a fantastic spring. He has the ability to play outside. We brought JaVonta in and didn’t know where Velus was going to end up (but) we knew that he was going to help us. He got hurt early in training camp and missed really almost all of training camp. Getting him back healthy and then up to speed was something that had to transpire the first couple of weeks. Those guys have played really well. They’ve been good as far as being able to read coverage and settle down in zones, be in the right spot versus a man-to-man for the quarterback. They’ve won one-on-ones. They’ve taken great care of the football at this point when they have the ball in their hands. Velus has done a tremendous job with yards after the catch. We felt like that group had a chance to grow. I still feel like their best football is still here in the back half of the season, but they’ve got a great understanding of what we’re doing right now.”
 
On if the team having no turnovers through three SEC games is a result of the players’ comfortability within the offensive system…
“I think a part of it is decision-making and comfort in what we’re doing. I think part of it is protection. The quarterback’s doing a great job of taking care of the football too. Guys with the ball in their hands have done a great job. It’s something that we practice and rep every single day. It’s how we start our practices once we get done with our walkthrough. They’ve taken ownership of it. They’ve done a great job of taking care of it. It’s going to be critical in this football game. You can’t give away possessions and give them (Ole Miss) short fields.”
 
On how quickly he turns the page after a game…
“Well, I went and recruited for a couple of hours with guys that we had on campus and turned it around before dinner hit. I started watching video and now it’s about how you’re getting better from what you saw on the video. For your players, I think it is important that they enjoy it Saturday night and Sunday. Then, when you come back in the building on Monday it’s time to learn from it and gain that experience and push forward to the next week.”
 
On if freshman Aaron Willis would be an option to help fill in at the linebacker position…
“Aaron’s a guy that’s traveled with us the last couple of weeks. He continues to grow in an understanding of what we’re doing defensively.”
 
On how he would assess the team’s downfield blocking…
“I think at times, it’s been really good. At times it’s been really good. Some of the big runs that you’ve seen, some of the perimeter screens that have gone for chunk plays, that happens because your skill guys out on the perimeter are doing a great job. We can still be more consistent in our habits there, but that’s like a lot of what we’ve seen throughout the course of the first part of the season.”
 
On the environment for Saturday’s game vs. Ole Miss…
“I’m into whatever our fans want to do on Saturday night for this one. You want to play an exciting brand of football. You want to compete really hard and bring fans to the stands. I think we’re doing that right now. Then, you want your fans to enjoy the moment. Saturday night will be a great environment. We need it to be a hostile environment. We need to make it tough for those guys to communicate. Our fans understand that they’re playing with tempo in their communication. We need to make it loud and make it uncomfortable for them.”

Player Quotes

Alontae Taylor – DB – Senior

On challenges going into Ole Miss…
“I feel like the biggest challenge is going to be doing our assignment. This offense is kind of like our offense, we went up against it in the spring and against it in the fall. As far as the high tempo, wide splits with the receivers and Matt Corral is a great quarterback. He makes great decisions. We just need to make sure to contain him and do our assignment and we will be best off.”

On players filling in well with injuries…
“We just hold a standard here, making sure you know your assignment. It doesn’t matter if you’re a walk-on, it doesn’t matter if you are on scout team, everyone is supposed to know exactly what they are supposed to do, and on the defense, but really more on the secondary we hold that standard of knowing the job and our responsibility. When guys are on the sideline, the first-string guys come off the field, second string goes on, we are asking the third strings, ‘what is your responsibility’ as the play is going on. Just making sure everyone knows what they are supposed to do so that when their number is called, they aren’t going out there wondering what their job is. They know exactly what to do.”

On seeing the hard work pay off…
“I wouldn’t say it gives me more juice, I would just say it’s kind of one of those things like, ‘I told you so.’ Talking to myself, I’ve always felt like we have had the right defense, the right guys (on defense) – it is just putting it all together, and if you notice when our defense is clicking, we are clicking. When we are flying around, we’re all flying around. Throughout this season if you have noticed, we have been playing fast. We’ve been playing physical and that is one thing I have always known we can do as a defense, it’s just about seeing it. Now that I see it, it’s like wow, I knew we could do this the whole time.”

Jerome Carvin – OL – Senior

On celebrating scoring touchdowns…
“Man, it’s a lot of fun, especially going at a high tempo, a high pace offense, you get a little tired. So, whenever we get in the end zone, you know, I’m happy. I was just excited for our playmakers, excited for our skill guys, just getting in the end zone because they deserve it. They work hard during the week, and so just going in there and go help celebrate with them. It’s great.”

On staying mentally sharp for four quarters…
“Coming out (of halftime), we kind of dragged out of it in a sense. We have to have the same mental focus and locked in as we did in the first quarter. And so, I feel like that’s probably the main thing. It happened the third quarter, we ended up stringing some drives together and end up scoring to put it away (in the fourth quarter), but we definitely have to start early out of halftime.”

On the unique atmosphere Saturday with the black jerseys and former players being back…
“I mean it was great. Definitely switched it up from our traditional uniforms. It was good for the fans, good for us as players, good for recruits as well. Having a legend there was amazing. Having Al Wilson there, he talked to us after the game, and any time he talks, man it’s something special. He makes you want to run through a brick wall so he’s great. I mean he’s a pumped-up dude, looks like he could still play football now. We were definitely pumped up for this game, any time it’s an SEC east opponent man, we’re pumped-up, we’re ready to roll, so it was a big game for us and glad we got the dub.”

-UT Athletics

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