Heupel & Keyton Quotes: Vols Turn Page to South Alabama for Final Non-Conference Game

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Vols will look earn their sixth win and secure bowl eligibility as they wrap up non-conference play against South Alabama on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

After a difficult stretch of four straight games against teams ranked in the top 20, UT will look to finish strong as it enters its final two games of the regular season, both of which will be at home.

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel talked about the benefits of playing in a bowl game during his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon.

“It’s big because it shows progress in year one, just over the course of the season,” Heupel said in regard to getting to a bowl game. “But then, the practices on the back end of it are instrumental in continuing to develop your young guys.
“You get another few weeks with them, strength and conditioning in the weight room, too. All those things are huge as you push your program forward.”

The Vols know they’ll need to be locked in for Saturday’s contest against a solid Jaguars team that also enters the game with a 5-5 record and will be looking to earn bowl eligibility.

“For us, we talk about us every week, and that’s true this week,” Heupel said. “Control the controllables, control your preparation, be really consistent in who you are. Our competitive nature has to be the same and really consistent. I think that’s one of the ways that as a football team we’ve continued to grow is in our preparation.

“You’ve heard me talk a lot about that early in the year. I wasn’t happy with where we were at. I do know that we have grown in that. This Saturday, next opponent, it’s the only one we get to play this week. We need to be ready to go play.” 

Saturday will serve as UT’s “Salute to Service” game, as the Big Orange will honor all current and former members of our military. The Vols and Jaguars kick off at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

The full transcript of Heupel’s press conference as well as select quotes from junior wide receiver Ramel Keyton can be found below.

Vols HC Josh Heupel / Credit: UT Athletics

Heupel Full Transcript

Opening statement…
“Obviously, everybody is disappointed with the outcome from the ball game the other night. Talked to the guys today. I really did feel like it was our best week of preparation. Practice was really good. I thought we finished it the right way. Just showed them the middle part of the ball game, and some things that we have to do better, coaches and players, to make that a different game in the fourth quarter. Disappointed in that.
 
“It’s an opportunity for us this week, good South Alabama football team that we got to get prepared for. We got to continue to get better, continue to fight and compete, and believe our team will do that. I love going to battle with these guys every single week, and you guys have heard me say that. Looking forward to the next opportunity here this Saturday.”
 
On who will step up in an injured linebacking corps…
“We’ll see his availability here as the week unfolds. You saw Solon (Solon Page III) play more action, couple of our young guys—Humphrey (Nick Humphrey) and Willis (Aaron Willis)—are a couple guys that will continue to compete and possibly take more reps.”
 
On if there have been conversations about Hendon Hooker returning next year…
“They’ll happen as we finish the season.”
 
On how the transfer portal effects when those conversations happen…
“I think it’s important you finish the season the right way, and kids make an educated decision. I’ve said it before, I think publicly with you guys, we want our guys to have an opportunity at the next level. You want them to have a full career. You want them to make the right decision at the right time for them. You get feedback from different people, present the information and help them make an educated decision.”
 
On Jeremy Banks anchoring the linebackers…
“With some of the guys that have gotten nicked up throughout the course of the season, his consistency of being available, his toughness, and his continued growth at the position—understanding of how to play the position—he’s continued to grow that way and been a big part of what we’ve done defensively.”
 
On what has allowed Cedric Tillman to see success against top-tier competition…
 “To me, it really just dates back to when I first got here. That’s a guy that has been extremely focused on continuing to change his body, gain strength, and development inside the strength and conditioning area. A guy that has probably spent as much or more time understanding what we are doing, right? I’m just talking about offensively, really being diligent and watching film, right? Then you get into spring ball and his first five practices, consistent in his work ethic—but you saw growth from first five, to second five, to third five. In that, he has gained a ton of confidence and belief that he can be a really good wide receiver at this level. Then you’ve seen him progress throughout the season because his work habits have consistently continued to grow. I say this to our football team a lot, the guys that put the most into it are the guys that get the most out of it. It doesn’t always happen immediately when you want it, but man, it rings true over time. I think his work and toughness and who he is has shown up in his season thus far.”
 
On bowl eligibility and what it means for a first-year program…
“It’s big because it shows progress in year one, just over the course of the season. But then, the practices on the back end of it are instrumental in continuing to develop your young guys. You get another few weeks with them, strength and conditioning in the weight room, too. All those things are huge as you push your program forward. The big thing for us is just focusing on this week, though. I think that’s really important. Our football team understands that when you play good opponents like we did last Saturday against Georgia, they’re going to make some plays, right? And we’re going to compete and make plays, too. Controlling what we can control and being in the right spot at the right time are the things that we have to continue to get better at to be the absolute best that we can. It’s in some ways—not really in some ways, it is—you’re in a race against yourself. Our kids are taking great pride, they care. They were hurt by the end result of last Saturday, but shoot, we go out on the grass today and they’re ready to compete, work, and get better.”
 
On JaVonta Payton’s availability this week and how Ramel Keyton stepped up in his absence…
“I thought Ramel did some really positive things without the ball in his hands. I thought he did a good job on the perimeter blocking, in particular for some of our perimeter screens. He did a good job when the ball was in his hands, too. Got a tunnel screen he does a nice job on, makes a nice play on a nice shallow, catch-and-run after it. There are some things that he’ll learn from and get better at, particularly against press coverage, but I thought he stepped in and did a lot of really good things. As for JaVonta, we’ll see as the week unfolds here.”
 
On the challenge of playing in the SEC with national championship contenders …
“That’s why you want to be here. You want a chance to have the ability to compete against the best, and then go beat them. Certainly, that’s the bar in this conference and for us with our schedule. That’s the challenge our kids and I wake up to every day. We go compete and keep pushing forward. We’re in a race to get there as fast as we possibly can, but we will.”
 
On more players adapting the workman’s mentality of Cedric Tillman
“It’s everything. It’s setting standards inside your program, them meeting it. It’s got to be player-driven from within the locker room too, and that happens by positions sometimes, and sometimes just great leaders on any sides of the football. You want to continue to recruit guys that have that type of mentality, but you have to develop it inside your program too. You push forward every single day, and when everybody gains those inches, that adds up to the differences that you need to make. In the football game the other night, there are little things that we can do, coaches and players alike, to change the way that game is played in the fourth quarter. That’s a really good football team, one that in all likelihood will be in the College Football Playoff. We’ll just keep grinding it out.”
 
On the scoring discrepancy between the first and second quarter…
“The ability to just continue to be dialed in, in the second quarter. You experience success, not taking anything for granted, and doing ordinary things at a high level. When we do those, we move the football. When we don’t, then you struggle. When you look at the pass protection the other night in the second quarter, some things we struggled with. Hendon’s a little bit off, and then all of a sudden you go three-and-out or turn the ball over at midfield, and it changes the way the game is played. You just have to do those things at a really high level. When we did, we had success.”
 
On teaching quarterbacks when to throw jump balls to receivers down the field…
“I don’t think we’ve had any turnovers on the 50-50 ball. Typically, we’re either winning or we’re not. If we’re not, then we end up dropping it down.”
 
On if older players encourage younger players who are not currently playing meaningful snaps…
“I think it’s important that your players understand growth. I think it’s important that your coaches talk to young guys that come in, and maybe are on a practice squad and not experiencing a ton of playing time early in their career. You have the players that are older too, try to help carry that message to young guys. Sometimes it happens super early for guys that step into your program, sometimes it doesn’t. There’s going to be adversity in this game. It’s going to happen during the course of your career at some point and some time. You’ve got to continue to fight. The development of your players is a huge part in the development of your program too. I think kids have to understand that you have to continue to invest. The more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it.”
 
On keeping team’s mindset the same against a non-SEC opponent, and what South Alabama does well as a team…
“For us, we talk about us every week, and that’s true this week. Control the controllables, control your preparation, be really consistent in who you are. No matter what the stadium looks or sounds like, how juicy it is in there. Our competitive nature has to be the same and really consistent. I think that’s one of the ways that as a football team we’ve continued to grow, is in our preparation. You’ve heard me talk a lot about that early in the year. I wasn’t happy with where we were at. I do know that we have grown in that. This Saturday, next opponent, it’s the only one that we get to play this week. We need to be ready to go play.”
 
On Byron Young’s growth since earlier in the season…
“I thought on Saturday he played with relentless energy. Some of those sacks were because of great coverage on the back end where we’re matching things out, quarterback’s got nowhere to go. He’s able to counter his initial move and then go apply pressure to the quarterback. Huge play early in the second half, I think first drive on third down, he’s able to make a play. He’s there to make a play, with a horse collar obviously, but just great energy from him all night long.”
 
On if seeing Joe Milton III have success in a game means more to his progress than practice snaps…
“I think game action, your success in that is a result of your preparation and your practice habits. He’s continued to grow in a lot of those ways. He needs to continue to push and compete in those areas for him to be his best. But it was good to see him have success the other night.”
 
On how far Joe Milton III has continued to grow from fall camp…
“He’s continued to grow, just in the understanding of what we’re doing and the ability to call it, see it recognize it and throw it. Last Saturday, he did some really positive things.”

Ramel Keyton – WR – Senior 

On parts of the new offense that fit his game best… 
“I feel like we have better chances to get shots as a receiver. I feel like the quarterbacks that we have right now, and the way they teach the quarterbacks, actually helps the receiver. We feel like we’re on the same page as the offense and we run tempo. I feel like it just works better. A little more explosive.” 

On what he contributes to the game other than receptions… 
“Try to get blocks on guys. Other people are running, somebody running down the field, just trying to do your job—if it was setting the pick, setting a rub for somebody or whatever it is. Trying to get them open, thinking like that. Really just trying to finish each play in strength because that’s the mentality we have here.” 

On keeping focus in last two games… 
“We just have to take these last two games as regular games. We still have to come to play, we still have to win the game. We can go to a bowl game, win that way, win out so that going into next year we have a lot of momentum. We’re just ready to keep going.” 

-UT Athletics

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