Everything Josh Heupel said on Monday

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What Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said during his weekly press conference on Monday, looking back at the 66-24 win over Missouri on Saturday at Neyland Stadium and previewing this week’s road game at South Carolina:

OPENING STATEMENT

“To start off, with the awful tragedy at the University of Virginia, just extend our thoughts and our prayers are with them, their program, as they go through this. Really tough and unfortunate situation.

“For us this week, obviously a huge road test here (at South Carolina). Good football team. They do a good job in all three phases. Do a really good job on the special teams side of it. They’ve changed the way the game is played in their return units and in their cover units. Very aggressive in what they do, from blocked kicks to what they’ve done in the return game. Will be a huge test for us on that side of it. And the same offensively and defensively. They’ve created a bunch of big plays in the pass game. We have to do a good job of matching them out and handling protection. Line of scrimmage is going to be important like it is every week. And for us offensively, obviously the line of scrimmage will be important too. They’re doing a really good job as far as pass defense.”

DYLAN SAMPSON’S PROGRES

“I don’t know it’s necessarily what he hasn’t been doing earlier (in the season). The (Missouri) game and the way it played out, (it was) an opportunity to use him. Had planned on doing that a couple weeks earlier, too, probably more frequently than he had at the beginning of the season. At the very beginning of the season, he’s more comfortable in what we’re doing (since then). Trust him in the protection side of it. And I feel like he can handle our entire package. During the course of the game, played extremely well. Was solid in the pass protection side of it, but with the ball in his hands, I thought he had great vision, great pace. Then obviously had the ability to burst when he was at the line of scrimmage and go create some things on his own, too, make people miss when he got to the second and third levels.”

BRANDON TURNAGE’S PROGRESS

“Part of it for him is just coming back and getting completely healthy. Through the course of the summer, he was limited in some of what he was able to do. Training camp, we kind of had a pitch count on him every single day. Just getting more comfortable and confident. He’s a guy that I pointed out to the team, actually, this morning. Whether he was starting, getting a ton of plays or not, his investment inside of the meeting room and inside of the programs was so consistent. You continue to do that (and) when you’re opportunity comes, you take advantage of it. He’s played at a really high level. He’s extremely bright and smart, man. He understands the game. He does a great job helping some of the younger guys inside of that room. Because he’s playing well fundamentally and his eyes are in the right spot, he’s been able to break on some balls, make a pick. Almost had another one the other day. Everybody inside of our program loves who he is and what he’s about.”

IN WHAT AREAS HENDON HOOKER’S SEPARATES HIMSELF FROM OTHER QUARTERBACKS WHO ARE CANDIDATES FOR THE HEISMAN TROPHY

“I haven’t gotten a chance to watch every other quarterback across the country and watch every rep. He’s playing at as high of a level as anybody I’ve ever had, and I’ve had Heisman guys. He’s in complete command on what we’re doing. You look at the efficiency of how he is playing, the ability to take care of the football, the dynamic plays that he’s made with his arm and his feet. We don’t look like we do offensively without him. He’s certainly deserving of being in that conversation. Got to go play the right way here the last couple weeks. Hope he has that opportunity. I believe he should.”

No. 5 Tennessee at South Carolina, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

CEDRIC TILLMAN’S AVAILABILITY THIS WEEK

“Yeah, you know, it’s obviously just Monday for us. But as the week unfolds, (I) believe he’ll have that ability to be able to play in this one. We’ll always evaluate it on the back half of the week for sure.”

IF HE CONSIDERED TAKING A KNEE RATHER THAN SCORING THE LAST TOUCHDOWN AGAINST MISSOURI

“Yeah, you know, for us at the end of the day, our twos (second team) were in the football game when the ball went down to the 1-yard line or whatever it was. Absolutely (taking a knee) went through my mind. Don’t know what the right thing to do is in that moment. At the end of the day, (I) let our guys continue to play football.”

COOPER MAYS BEING THE FOURTH DIFFERENT TENNESSEE OFFENSIVE LINEMAN TO BE NAMED SEC LINEMAN OF THE WEEK

“Smart, tough, competitive. Great ownership inside of the room. It all starts with him for us. Just for him having a true offseason, compared to a year ago, and really through his career, this was the first true offseason that he’s had. Stronger, bigger than he was. And playing at a super high level. Love what he brings to the table every day.”

WHAT SPENCER RATTLER DOES FOR SOUTH CAROLINA

“First of all, I said it at the very beginning, they’ve created a bunch of big plays. I think they’re second in the league in pass plays over 40 yards. Some of that comes off of play-action, some off drop back. He’s able to extend and make plays outside of the pocket with his feet, too. For us, we’ve got to do a great job of controlling first and second down. Then play with discipline. You can’t let their tight ends or their wideouts run free. So we’ve got to match things out extremely well.”

SOUTH CAROLINA’S SUCCESS WITH FAKE PUNTS, USING ONE AGAINST TENNESSEE LAST SEASON

“Last year they got us in punt safe. We didn’t do a good job of playing the technique we’re supposed to out on the outside. When our special teams units go out on the field, you have to be aware that, one, they’re going to be aggressive after the punt. They’re really good in the return game, too, off of that, punt return. And certainly kickoff return, too. You’ve got to do a great job of covering, too. They do a great job in the return game. They place an emphasis on it. They’re aggressive in what they do. Our guys have to go out and play the right way. There’s no redo. You get one opportunity when you’re on the special teams unit. Got to go match it out. So eye discipline, recognition of your alignment, assignments based on the formation will be critical in this one.”

TENNESSEE PREPARING FOR CROWD NOISE AT SOUTH CAROLINA

“We’ll continue to do some of the things that we’ve done here at home. In the moment, we’ve got to be able to reset and play. Dead balls in particular, you’ve got to be able to handle it. We’ve done that in different road environments. This will be a great one. Haven’t been there before. It’s going to be loud and you’ve got to handle that part of it. We talked about it this morning. It’s got to be a point of emphasis to do the ordinary things at a really high level in this game.”

Improved offensive line playing ‘consistently’ for Vols

HOW THE TENNESSEE OFFENSIVE LINE HAS IMPROVED

“Physically, all of them continue to change their bodies. They’re stronger, playing with better technique. I do think their understanding of what we’re doing in Year Two, the fundamentals come along with that, their football knowledge, IQ of what we’re doing, but then also defensively what they’re seeing. Then for us, we’ve had the ability, for four out of the five guys, to play consistently. The left tackle position has been nicked up a little bit here and there, but it’s been pretty much a two-man rotation. So you combine Year Two, their knowledge and the consistency we’ve had, those guys have been able to play at a really high level.”

FRESHMAN JOURDAN THOMAS ON SPECIAL TEAMS FOR TENNESSEE

“He has made a lot of plays. He’s defeated blocks, gone and made tackles. He’s good in space. As far as our recognition, he’s been on those units from the beginning of the season, just because of what he did during training camp. He cares. He pays attention. It matters to him. He competes every single day. He’s grown fundamentally, so all of those reasons gave you the ability, combined with his athleticism, that we thought he would play at a really high level and he has. Kalib Perry continues to grow. Elijah Herring continues to grow, do a lot of really good things on those special teams units.”

JALIN HYATT’S TOUCHDOWN AGAINST MISSOURI AND HOW THE TENNESSEE STAFF DECIDES WHEN TO USE CERTAIN PLAYS

“I think you’re always balancing what your kids are good at, what they’re comfortable with, what they’re seeing on the other side of the football schematically, right? You’ve got to put your kids in a position to win. Then certainly for our staff, we’ve been together for a while. You can draw back on things that we’ve done in the past that maybe haven’t appeared here recently and try to incorporate those when you think you have an opportunity to create a mismatch.”

HOW THERE’S SEEMINGLY BEEN LESS FAKE INJURIES THIS SEASON

“I don’t know, if you just take out the Ole Miss game from last year, it’s probably pretty consistent. … I don’t have (a theory on why). It probably still appears sometimes.”

JIMMY HOLIDAY AS A GUNNER ON TENNESSEE SPECIAL TEAMS

“He’s done a great job. He’s playing a ton of snaps on special teams and is a difference-maker for us there. His athleticism, his speed down the football field, you’re talking about on punt, being the gunner – does a great job, one, causing fair catches (and) he’s downed the ball inside the 10-yard line a couple of times and has done a good job of going down and making plays, too. I think some of those unique positions, all of those skills translate over to offense or defense, but you’re put in unique positions. So his opportunity to play throughout the course of the season consistently at all those spots has allowed him to continue to develop and got a great future ahead of him.”

THE TENNESSEE DEFENSE CONTINUING TO EXECUTE MOVING FORWARD

“When it’s going good, all 11 are operating as one. You’re playing gap-sound. You’re tackling well. But that happens because you’re in good body positions because your eyes take you to the football. When it’s not going good, it’s not like a wholesale change typically is what is needed. It’s guys settling into the football (game). Ten guys can be doing it right, and one guy’s not and all of the sudden you give up a big play. So doing the ordinary things at a really high level, our preparation, our practice habits have got to be right. This is a big football game for us. This is the only one we’ve got this week. Really good opponent. Great environment. We’ve got to be ready to go compete for 60 minutes and be dialed in to the details of our jobs.”



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