Vols Shift Attention to Gators for SEC Opener

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The 11th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers began preparations for a new challenge Monday morning following a 63-6 victory over Akron on Saturday night as the Vols gear up for their SEC opener against No. 20 Florida Saturday afternoon.

The Gators stand as the second ranked foe the Vols face in the 2022 campaign. Tennessee downed No. 17 Pitt on the road Week 2, winning 34-27 in overtime. Saturday’s contest marks the first time since 2016 that both Tennessee and Florida are ranked heading into the showdown. Heupel and his team understand the challenge that lies ahead, but there is no doubt the team will be as prepared as it can be heading into the bout.

“Great week ahead of us and excited about the challenge that is coming to town,” head coach Josh Heupel said. “It is going to be a great environment, one that our entire program is excited about. I said it earlier today, the most important thing for us is controlling our preparation and that taking us to kickoff.”

The team feels locked in, too. One of the team leaders and captain Hendon Hooker discussed tuning out all the noise, because at the end of the day, the team is playing the same game at the same field, in the same stadium that rests on the banks of the Tennessee River.

We are going to approach it the same way we approach every other game,” Hooker said. “All the outside noise doesn’t really matter to us. We are going to come in, we are going to gameplan how we do in a normal week, and we’re going to come in and work hard.”

As Heupel touched on in his postgame remarks, Vol Nation is a difference-maker for the guys on the field. In the moment, being surrounded by 101,915 of your closest friends, that’s what makes Rocky Top magical.

“This is what you play SEC ball for – weekends like this,” tight end Jacob Warren said.

“You want to be a part of these types of games,” Heupel also noted. “You want to have an opportunity to have College GameDay on your campus and be the prime-time slot and have a sold-out stadium. We’re excited to see the fan base and Vol Walk, I know will be electric. When we run out of that T, there won’t be a better atmosphere in college football.”

The stage is set for Tennessee and Florida to square off Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET inside of Neyland Stadium with the game broadcast on CBS. The matchup is preceded by ESPN College GameDay, beginning at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN.



Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel | Sept. 19, 2022

Opening Statement…
“Hope everybody is doing well. Great week ahead of us and excited about the challenge that is coming to town. It is going to be a great environment, one that our entire program is excited about. I said it earlier today, the most important thing for us is controlling our preparation and that taking us to kickoff. The guys had a good Monday and they’ll be back this evening. Looking forward to the entire week.”
 
On what he saw to call a speed option play vs. Akron…
“Week to week we are going to change offensively based on what we’re seeing structure from the other side of the football. It was an opportunity for us to get the ball out on the perimeter and Hendon (Hooker) did a really nice job of operating in it the two times that we ran it, and Dylan (Sampson) did as well.”
 
On the psychological hurdle playing Florida this week…
“I don’t believe that. Each week is different, each day is different, each season is. For us, we’re however many months into our program, right here right now, and our kids are extremely confident, as they should be. They prepare the right way, they work hard, we have continued to grow. They know that the preparation is going to be the most important thing. It is going to be a great atmosphere. We have got to be able to control our emotions during the course of the football game but compete and not go up and down during the course of the game.”
 
On the first time somebody brought up the Florida rivalry to him…
“Probably 30 seconds after I arrived here on campus. This is one of the ball games that this fanbase and our players point to, too. Obviously, being a fan of college football, I’ve seen the great games and the rivalry itself play out. That’s why you come here. You want to be a part of these types of games. You want to have an opportunity to have College GameDay on your campus and be the prime-time slot and have a sold-out stadium. We’re excited to see the fan base and Vol Walk, I know will be electric, and when we run out of that T, there won’t be a better atmosphere in college football.”
 
On the program’s development…
“I think that’s one of the things that helped create buy in with our players, is that we have never set a ceiling on what we could or could not do. Last year this was a ball game that helped in the turning point inside of our program. Obviously, we didn’t come out on top. There’s a lot of things we didn’t do right but resetting afterwards that Monday where we came back in and were just able to show how everything unfolded and the things that we controlled I think created a ton of buy in too. At the end of the day, this is the fourth game of this journey this year. It’s a big one because it’s the only one we got this week. Our kids will be ready, and our staff will too.”
 
On the challenges that Florida QB Anthony Richardson presents…
“First of all, he can throw the football. He can do that on the move, and he can do that from inside the pocket. He’s big, physical, imposing. You have to bottle him up in the quarterback run game. At the same time, as you’re trying to apply pressure when they’re dropping back to throw it, he has the ability to make you pay if you don’t have rush integrity inside of your pass rush lanes. We’ve done a better job this year than we did a year ago, but that’s going to be a critical part of the football game.”
 
On when players bought in…
“I thought in year one we continued to grow in each phase. There was always, as there always is in year one, skepticism or not understanding what is going to come next. When you go from January and February strength and conditioning into spring ball, into the summer, into the season, there is always some unknowns there. I think for us, as a program, there were a couple of turning points. I said the Florida game last year was a big turning point for us. The way we played and competed when we went to Kentucky. Continued to create that buy in. I think our players started to see it was about us and it was about our preparation. We continued to grow, we became more mature, our practice habits changed, and we started playing better football.”
 
On veteran players coming back from injury…
“Guys that have played a bunch of football, that understand what we’re doing defensively or offensively. Do you ever want them to not get the physical reps? No, you prefer to have the physical reps. At the same time, those guys are mature enough to typically put themselves in a position to operate and function and play at a really high level with the limited amount of practice reps during the course of the week.”
 
On Hendon Hooker’s ability compared to his own playing days…
“He’s a lot more athletic than I was back in the day. I think how he’s grown in his preparation, what he does off the field and his ability to reset when he’s on the field. One play does not affect the next. I think those are a couple of things that I would hope remind me of myself.”
 
On Juwan Mitchell’s performance vs. Akron…
“I thought he played really well. In his opportunities, he was dialed in. No real mental lapses during the course of it, communicated extremely well.”
 
On injury updates…
“Today is Monday. We don’t do much on the field, so we’ll see as we get on the grass here in the next couple of days.”
 
On if he has a sense on how this team handles pressure…
“I do. You’re going to hear the outside noise and the energy and excitement. Our kids should be excited about what the environment is going to be on Saturday. Your preparation leads yourself to being ready to play. Competitive composure will be big in this one. At times, we’ve done a really good job of that. Obviously, there were some things the other night that I did not like. It’s going to be important for us all – the 11 guys on the field and everybody on the sidelines too – to be able to compete and have the right frame of mind for 60 minutes.”
 
On Jaylen Wright’s development over the season after being limited in camp…
“I thought he had his most action and most carries from the course of the season. I thought he handled himself well (with) vision and taking care of the football. A lot of positives. Protection too.”
 
On impressions of Florida’s defense…
“Highly skilled. That’s their front four. Being able to apply pressure and disrupt your run game. Secondary is long and athletic like you would anticipate them to be. There are schematic battles that will be fought on Saturday afternoon, but then there’s 1-on-1 battles that are going to have to be won by our players out on the field too.”
 
On the offensive penalties from this season and how to clean them up…
“(They were) self-inflicted in all three phases of the game the last couple of weeks. We’ve got to play cleaner in this one. The hidden yardage will matter. It changes the way the third and fourth downs are played. Pre-snap penalties, you can’t have them. We can’t have a penalty on special teams when the ball is exchanging sides. As much as anything we’ve got to play smart and be composed like I was talking about earlier.”
 
On his confidence in the non-starting wide receivers…
“We feel really good about all of those guys. Squirrel (White) goes out there and makes a huge play down the sideline early in the football game. Ramel (Keyton) has made plays every time he’s had an opportunity this year and last year. Walker (Merrill) continues to grow and has competed in a really good way, so we feel really good about all those guys.”
 
On if he’s talked to Gerald Mincey about playing against his former team…
“I joked with him a little bit today. He gets the chance to go compete against a few guys who he’s got a pretty good understanding of who they are and what they’re about. Give a little scouting report this evening on the front. He’s played really well. I think he’s continuing to get better and more comfortable in what we’re doing. He’s executed really well in the pass game. (He) continues to get better in the run game too. I expect him to have a big ball game on Saturday.”


On emotional maturity of team leading into game against Florida…
“I think we are going to approach it the same way we approach every other game. All the outside noise doesn’t really matter to us. We are going to come in, we are going to gameplan how we do in a normal week and we’re going to come in and work hard.”
 
On the run game so far this season…
“We’ve had a couple of yards we definitely would love to have. Our backs are running extremely hard. I’m very proud of them. I’m very proud of our guys up front and our guys outside. They’ve done a great job blocking on the perimeter and our interior line has done a great job communicating up front and getting twist paths off and getting to that next level as far as double teams and pulls. Everybody is playing extremely hard with a chip on their shoulder. We have something to prove and that’s what we’re going to do day in and day out.”
 
On not throwing a lot of interceptions throughout his career…
“The main focus for me is taking care of the team. The ball is the team. Just taking care of the ball is something that has been preached to me since I was a young age. I can always remember in high school – we’d throw the ball like nine times a game. I would go 8-for-9, 218 yards and three touchdowns. That was a pretty good game, but we had to take advantage of every opportunity we had throwing the ball. That still sticks with me. Take every opportunity that we have and make good plays, make smart plays. That’s what I try to do every day.”


 
On what the Tennessee vs. Florida game means to him…
“It means the world because this is what you come to schools like this for. You come for these big rivalries and these big story matchups between teams. I think it means a lot this year, too, because both programs have really good teams. We’re both ranked. It’s going to be a great matchup. Obviously, they’re coming here so it’s going to be a great environment as far as the stadium, the crowd, the fans, and everything. This is what you play SEC ball for – weekends like this.

On how last year’s game against Florida changed his mindset…


“The realization that a lot of the things that are causing us to not be successful are self-inflicted and can be avoided. Just having that realized, clicking on the film and seeing, ‘on this play it was the left tackle that messed up and that’s the reason or on this play it was the running backs that were wrong in their keys’. We’re hurting ourselves because we’re getting penalties on third down, having big drops on the perimeter or the quarterback isn’t reading the right thing, left or right, whatever it may be. Just coming to that realization that we’re shooting ourselves in the foot and if we’re able to lock in like I talked about earlier, the preparation piece and being ready for the game, truly mentally and physically ready for the game, we’ll give ourselves a much better chance to win. We were able to take that into the next few weeks of the season and carry that into this season, as well.”

On personal takeaways from the game against Akron…

“I’ve heard it a lot, people are saying we came out slow and we came out kind of lagging. We didn’t score on the first drive and then put together six scoring drives in a row. It might’ve seemed weird just because we weren’t up 28-0 in the first quarter. It’s good because we’ve kind of raised that bar, right? We’ve raised the bar from people expecting us to maybe score 20-something points in a game to now people expecting us to score 20 something points in a quarter. Just go out there and you find your groove. And we talked about it, we watched the film and broke it down. There are some mistakes that will be all over the field. It’s not just one position group. Something here and there where all 11 guys aren’t executing at the highest level. Obviously, we found our groove and were able to put that one away. Against really good teams, and Akron was a good team, but against teams that we want to compete against for championships, those things are going to have to be really clean going into the week and starting off the game.”

 

On focusing on the Florida game …
“I see this as a new game, especially with them personnel wise, coaching wise. They have a new coaching staff, especially new DC. All that is new. It’s a new game every year. The level of focus has to be there definitely, of course man. It’s Tennessee versus Florida. It’s why you come here to play. It’s going to be exciting. Everyone is going to be pumped and ready to play and we have got to be mentally focused and locked in this week for this preparation.”
 
On Gerald Mincey’s energy…
“Mincey is a great guy, really funny guy. He’s a south Florida kid, those guys are always funny. He always has a good ball of energy about him. He’s a great teammate and I expect nothing different from him this week and the weeks leading up to it. He’s a great player for us and a great guy and great teammate.”
 
On evaluating the run game so far this season…
“I can see a lot of improvement, but there’s still a lot to go, especially looking back at the Ball State and Pitt game. Especially the Pitt game, you go back and watch the film and it’s like man, one/two hats away from springing a big one. Even at this one against Akron, it’s just like one/two runs away from popping a big one. That’s just the level of strain and mentally being focused. Making sure we are in the right IDs, making sure we are just playing really hard and playing together as one. Looking forward to this game. We need these rushing yards. Those SEC ball games are going to be really physical. (We’ve) got to be able to run the football and stay out of those third and longs, so running the football will be really important this week.”


This page was created programmatically, to read the article in its original location you can go to the link bellow:
https://utsports.com/news/2022/9/19/football-vols-shift-attention-to-gators-for-sec-opener.aspx
and if you want to remove this article from our site please contact us

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