Quotes: High-Flying Vols Excited to Return Home for Clash with South Carolina

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Following an emphatic road win at Missouri last Saturday, Tennessee was back in the building on Monday to begin prep for an important home game against South Carolina this Saturday at noon ET on ESPN2.

The Vols are looking forward to being back in front of the home crowd after back-to-back road contests to open conference play.

“Great opportunity this week with a big football game for us, being back inside of Neyland Stadium here (after) being gone a couple of weeks,” head coach Josh Heupel said. “Can’t wait to see that thing packed out and create a really good home field advantage.”

 UT will look to keep things rolling after a record-setting offensive performance in its 62-24 rout of the Tigers in Columbia. The Big Orange finished with 683 total yards, their most since racking up 684 yards at Texas A&M on Oct. 8, 2016.

Of those 683 yards, 458 came on the ground, representing the most rushing yards in a road game in school history and the most overall since rushing for 513 yards against Washington & Lee on Nov. 10, 1951.  

“The result is awesome because of the work that the players have been putting in.,” Heupel said of the team’s performance at Mizzou. “Sometimes that’s not recognized or seen by fans or the TV audience when you play a football game, but the process as we continue to grow in it should lend itself to more consistent performances.

“Absolutely, the performance from the other day should create buy-in from our players and trust in what we’re doing as a football staff in everything that we are doing, from strength and conditioning to nutrition to our on-the-field calls, playbook, whatever it might be.” 

UT Great Al Wilson Set to Be Honored on Saturday

UT legend Al Wilson will be honored with his National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute during Saturday’s game. Wilson will be formally inducted in December. Tickets for Saturday’s contest are on sale now at AllVols.com.         

The full transcript of Heupel’s Monday press conference as well as quotes from redshirt junior offensive lineman Ollie Lane can be seen below.

Head Coach Josh Heupel

Opening statement…
“First of all, just recapping the game (and) getting a chance to go back and watch it. Really pleased with a lot of the effort that our kids played with in all three phases of the game. The great thing about the video is that you get a chance to come back and have a chance to correct a lot of things too. A lot of positives, but a lot of things that we can be a lot better. Special teams, how we function—coaching staff and everybody—obviously, the kickoff return for a touchdown. (We) had an opportunity to fit that a lot better than we did and make the play that doesn’t change the momentum in the football game. Defensively, ton of positives. The way we were able to stop the run, but there are some simple things that we can do in alignment, assignment to get off the field quicker than we did. Offensively, although we were efficient in the run game, there’s still opportunities for us to be a whole lot better and some things in the pass game that we can clean up as well. Excited that we got the result that we did. At the same time, you come back in the building on Monday and it’s about how we get better. The challenge is always going to be, how fast we can be as good as we can. I think our guys had the right mentality coming into the building today and going through our Monday.
 
“Got a big test this week, South Carolina, good football team. You look at how they’ve played inside the conference already against two really quality opponents. For us offensively, we’ve got to do a great job of running the football and being balanced. Defensively, got to control and dominate the line of scrimmage. Special teams will be a huge part in this football game. They’ve found ways to change the game on special teams. We’ve got to do a great job and minimize their opportunities of plays there.
 
“I mentioned it earlier, but our crowd has been phenomenal in the two road games. Ton of support, ton of people showing up, great energy the last couple of weeks. Great opportunity this week with a big football game for us, being back inside of Neyland Stadium here (after) being gone a couple of weeks. Can’t wait to see that thing packed out and create a really good home field advantage.
 
“It’s a unique opportunity for us, fans and as a program, to honor one of the greats who have come through here too, Al Wilson, on Saturday. Being able to recognize him going into the College Football Hall of Fame this year, a day that’s designated towards him. Just in the short time of me being here, getting an opportunity to know him, his passion, his care for this program is real. His impact as a player obviously was real. Love nothing more than hearing some of the stories of him as a great leader and obviously a great player inside of our program while he was here. Listening to a bunch of his teammates in particular, as guys came back in spring football—might’ve been around the spring football game—just getting a chance to hear those guys.
 
On origin of emphasizing the last 48 hours before a game…
“I just think finishing the process out the right way. Tuesday and Wednesday are heavy work days for us, Thursday is a walkthrough, Friday we pick up the speed on the practice field. Being engaged. If you’re a two and not getting a rep, being lined up, getting a mental rep. It’s impossible to get everybody, every rep with every call on either side of the ball against all the multiple formations or defenses you’re going to see, so being completely dialed into that process. Not tight, but dialed in when it’s time to work. Being on time, doing the right things as far as what you look like when we’re traveling, our meetings at the hotel, being on time to pregame meal, all those things play into keeping the most important thing the most important thing. When you’re in the football setting, it’s football.”
 
On where emphasizing the last 48 hours being his ‘thing’…
“It’s been our thing here because we haven’t been as consistent as we need to be as you point those things out. That’s the reality of where I think we’re at as a program. Our practice habits have continued to get better. We’ve still got to improve there, but the last 48 hours have been a point of emphasis for everybody in our program. Pointed out some things that weren’t right this past week too.”
 
On where performance in the last 48 hours shows up…
“Shows up in the little things. Some of those are big things that you guys see. Dropped ball, missed protection. Some of them are little details that you can’t tell. Hat placement, hands, six-inch step, the way we communicate on the sidelines. There’s a rhyme and reason behind everything that we’re doing in our program, and those things play out on gameday.”
 
On how scoring 62 points in an SEC can impact players…
“The end result of the performance on Saturday, the good in all three phases. People I think paid attention to offense, but the defense played an outstanding football game too. The result is awesome because of the work that the players have been putting in. Sometimes that’s not recognized or seen by fans or the TV audience when you play a football game, but the process as we continue to grow in it should lend itself to more consistent performances. Absolutely, the performance from the other day should create buy-in from our players and trust in what we’re doing as a football staff in everything that we are doing, from strength and conditioning to nutrition to our on-the-field calls, playbook whatever it might be.”
 
On challenges South Carolina presents…
“On the defensive side of the football, they have been really good up front. They’ve created turnovers, they attack the football. We have to do a great job of taking care of it. The last two weeks that’s been really important, done a good job. There are things that we’ve pointed out on film where the ball is loose and you’ve got to be ready for a defender to be there. We can be more consistent, better with the football in our hands. Offensively, we have to do a great job of dominating the line of scrimmage. I think that’s going to be critical in this football game. Force them into third and long situations, and then be able to play really good third down defense. That can be base four down, or it can be bringing pressure, or it could be drop eight too. I didn’t think we executed early in the football game the way we’re capable of on third down.”
 
On Hendon Hooker’s continued improvements…
“He’s been better taking care of the football with the ball in his hands. Some of our meshes have been better, more consistent. I think that happens as you get more time on task together with the same guys. I think as much as anything, great comfort and understanding what we’re doing, the tempo. He has been really in control of what’s going on at the line of scrimmage, been really good with his eyes and that’s allowed him to be really decisive with the football. He was extremely accurate the other day. A lot of them stems from eyes in the right place. Seeing things really clearly and allows you to get your body in the right spot.”
 
On Len’Neth Whitehead’s performance at Missouri…
“I think maybe a week or two ago, I talked about a guy that was banged up in the offseason, was rehabbing with our strength and conditioning staff, had a really good summer and just has steadily grown throughout training camp and the early part of the season. I think it’s a great lesson for guys inside of our program that sometimes things don’t happen exactly when you want them to. You continue to work, you continue to strain, you continue to learn on the field and off the field, and eventually your opportunity is going to come, and when you get that opportunity you’re going to be ready for it. I thought he did a really job the other day of pressing the line of scrimmage. Has the ability to make some guys miss more on the back end early in the football game when he was in there, but did a really good job in pass protection too, so I like a lot of what I saw from Len’Neth the other day.”
 
On Tiyon Evans’ importance to the team…
“Tiyon continues to grow. Did some really good things first week, got nicked up and wasn’t able to go for a week there. I think he continues to grow in his understanding. If you watch him at the running back position from the other day, he’s doing a great job of being on his track and pressing the line of scrimmage. That allows if you have a double team between your left guard and left tackle to press vertically and get on the second level, and that creates space for the running back when he gets outside. I thought he did a really good job as fronts changed of understanding how things would be blocked and pressing it, and hit it inside when it was supposed to. When he had an opportunity to bounce it and get to grass, did a great job there. He made some people miss too, which is really important. It’s going to be important this ballgame too as they load the box and make it difficult to run.”
 
On the receiver rotation and positioning…
“A lot of the rotation was just based on circumstances of the game and how the game ended up playing out. I believe that we have depth and have the ability to play multiple guys at multiple spots. Velus [Velus Jones Jr.], getting him inside was an opportunity to get him more touches. Thought he did a really good job inside. He did good job on our pass game, understanding where he needed to be. Thought he did a good job on a couple option routes and did a really good job with the ball in his hands.”
 
On Christian Charles starting the game and exiting early…
“Just got injured early in the football game. Thought he would have the opportunity to return, but we decided not to. As the game unfolded, there were a handful of guys that you saw early that maybe didn’t finish. We’ll see where those guys are at as we go through the week.”
 
On how Ollie Lane has continued to improve throughout the season…
“I think he’s getting more confident in being out there and playing more reps. I think he’s playing at a better level too, just fundamentally and technique. An opportunity on the field typically will lend to some growth during game time, too. Like what we saw this past Saturday.”
 
On Cade Mays being named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week…
“Congratulations to Cade, didn’t know that. That’s a guy that is playing better and better every single week. I think from a year ago, just coming in and watching him on video and then watching him in the off-season, a guy that has really reshaped his body. (His) ability to bend and play with great power, functional strength at the offensive line position, he’s playing his best football right now. He’s been healthy, and he’s a guy that’s got great understanding. If you’re up near the line of scrimmage during practice, you’re going to hear him communicating with his guard and sometimes, his center. He’s got a great understanding of how all of it plays in together.”
 
On the Vols not getting flagged as much for penalties this week…
“Penalties change the game, typically in a very negative way when they’re on you. It changes the situational calls that you’re in—whether it’s 2nd-and-long or being in 3rd-and-long—advantage to the other side of the football. Being able to play in rhythm is really important for us as well, the stress of the tempo. Obviously, that’s not there when you’re coming off a penalty. You put all those things together, it’s important for offensive football. You look at the past couple of games when we had a large amount of penalites, some of that’s on special teams, some of that’s on defense too. We were able to play ahead of the chains or on our terms for most of the football game in all three phases.”
 
On how Saturday’s result affects his expectations for the rest of the season…
“It doesn’t. College football is a game of 12 weeks, but it’s a one-week season every single week. I’ve talked to the football team about that. If you try to compare and contrast scores from week to week, none of it’s going to make any sense. It’s about your same competitive spirit, competitive composure. When you get out there, it’s about your process leading up to kickoff. If we continue to grow in that, that will lend itself to better and better results as we go through the season.”
 
On who is the starting quarterback this week…
“Hendon will be the one this week, yes.”
 
On how should a team react to winning depending on if they’re used to it or not…
“If they pay attention to the outside noise, positive or negative, they’re letting circumstances control who they are on a daily basis that have no bearing on what’s going to happen in a competitive environment. For your friends, your family, your girlfriend, your dog, they get to talk about what happened the previous week. As a competitor, the tough thing and great thing is that when you come back in the building, it’s on to the next one, and the only thing that matters is the next one. We’re only as good as we are next Saturday at 12:00 against South Carolina. I think our kids are buying into that. That’s why our preparation has gotten better. Now where it needs to be, but it’s gotten better. If we’re consistent in our growth in that, then we have a chance.”
 
On how good the defensive staff has done been with the run game…
“The defensive staff has done a phenomenal job, starting with Coach Banks. His ability to get buy-in and trust from his players is where everything starts in the whole process. His ability to be multiple with what we’re doing on all three levels of the defense, from the front, to alignments in the second level, to coverages on the third level. Being able to intercorporate and teach it in a way where kids understand it and can reason it out, things change with the pictures you’re seeing on the offensive side of the football. It sounds easy (but) it is really difficult. The ability of all of our coaches to be great teachers and to allow our players to understand the fundamentals and technique that we want to play with, it’s a unique group over there on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve done a phenomenal job starting with Coach Banks, but to the assistant coaches as well.”
 
On how important it was to get the younger guys in the secondary more reps…
“Great to get them a bunch of reps. It’s got to be next man up at any position group. I talked about that week one. It plays out as the season unfolds, and you don’t know when it’s going to happen, so you better be ready to smash your opportunity when it comes. (Tamarion McDonald and Doneiko Slaughter) have done a really good job with the opportunities that they’ve gotten. I thought (Doneiko) played seamless throughout the course of the day. T-Mac (Tamarion McDonald) did a lot of really positive things on the back end. There’s a couple things that he can do better with his eyes, but for young players, I thought there were a lot of positives and a lot of growth.”
 
On what causes a breakdown on special teams…
“Doesn’t matter. There are no asterisks next to a play that say this is the third team kickoff cover guy that’s on there. At the end of the day, we can be better than we were last Saturday, and we need to be. For us as a program, it’s a phase of the game that we have to win. We’ve shown that we’re capable of it. Have to be better.”

R-Junior OL Ollie Lane

On being both a local player and a big contributor…
“I basically describe it as I’m living the dream. Every time coming up through high school at Gibbs, it was my dream to come and play football here at Tennessee, and when I finally got the opportunity, I knew exactly the decision I wanted to make. Through these years of being able to not only have support from my parents but also a huge support from the community. I mean after every game this season; I’ve had texts from my high school coaches and stuff. Just how much they’re proud of me and how they continue to use me as an example for their current players of, this is what it takes to do what you want to do and this is kind of like your example.”
 
On redeeming themselves from last season’s Missouri game…
“It was definitely one of those moments where you just look back at where you’ve been and then you see where you’re headed, and we’ve still got a long way to go to be where we want to be. But to see the hard work and perseverance finally pay off has been huge for us, and I think it will help continue to give us a big motivational push as we continue through the season.”
 
On the impact Coach Elarbee has had on him…
“Coach Elarbee has been a phenomenal coach for me. He’s one of those guys that’s going to sit back, and he’s going to talk with you and coach you through things. He’s really going to work with you really well. One thing ever since he’s been here is that we’ve hit being able to play multiple positions, being able to know all the calls, being able to run, if I needed to, being able to run the offense from the center positions as well as also tackle and both guards. So, I mean one thing he’s really worked with me on is just being versatile and being able to do everything that he thinks I can do, and him having that trust and belief in me has helped build my confidence a lot.”

-UT Athletics

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