Quotes: Consistency in Preparation Key as #15 Vols Gear Up to Face Akron

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Coming off a road victory at No. 17 Pittsburgh last Saturday, Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel met with the media for his weekly Monday press conference to recap the Vols’ big win and preview this weekend’s contest against Akron.
 
“Excited about the way our kids competed this Saturday and proud of our ability to find a way to win a game that was against a good opponent,” Heupel said. “Obviously, we did not play our best in some areas, but we found a way to come out on the right side of it.”

Saturday’s game was far from perfect and presented the Vols with plenty of adverse situations, ones which might have been too much to overcome for last year’s team. However, the program’s growth from the start of last season to now and the culture that has been built during that time proved to be a major reason why UT was able to come away victorious.
 
“The accountability that we have inside of our program, doing the right things in every area of your life, it shows up in how you play,” Heupel said. “The mental toughness, physical toughness and the ability to strain when things aren’t going your way, being relentless and playing together in all phases of the game. It’s just the growth of individuals and the growth of our units together. All that adds up to us having the ability to fight and win a game in overtime like we played.” 
 
While the offense was impressive in spurts during Saturday’s win, Tennessee’s defense was the story of the game, holding the Panthers in check for much of the game while putting constant pressure on Pitt’s quarterbacks.
 
“With just our front four, there were times that we did a great job,” Heupel said. “Tyler Baron’s strip-sack at the end of the half. Obviously, Tre (Flowers) with pressure at the end of the football game. It was a combination of both of those things and, as the game went on, I thought the coverage on the back end forced them to hold it for another count. Early in the football game, we were a step short of being able to hit the quarterback. I thought the combination of what we were doing was really good. I thought coach Tim Banks and our defensive staff did a great job in game planning and preparation, had our guys ready to go compete.” 
 
Senior linebacker and Tennessee’s leading tackler Aaron Beasley attributed a lot of UT’s defensive success early this season to the team’s understanding off the defense and the ability to play fast.
 
“I would have to say we’re just out there playing, playing fast, not thinking as much, not worried about messing up,” Beasley said. “We’re really out there just playing ball and playing fast. I think that’s the biggest thing for us.”
 
As the Vols prepare for this week’s opponent, Akron, Heupel harped on the importance of consistency when it comes to preparation.
 
“The challenge every week is really us,” Heupel said. “Our preparation has to be consistent, your process of how you approach and get to game day is what takes you to game day to play your best football. If you ever deviate from that plan and change it, you’re setting yourself up for failure. We talked about that in the team meeting today.
 
“College football has always been this way, but certainly this past weekend and the first weekend, you see it. Everybody’s got 85 (scholarship players) and they’ve got good coaching staffs, so you better prepare and be ready to compete in a really good way. Your competitiveness cannot deviate from week to week.” 
 
Kickoff for Saturday’s contest against the Zips is set for 7 p.m. The game will be streamed digitally on SEC Network+ and ESPN+ on the ESPN app. Tickets can be purchased by visiting AllVols.com.

Transcript and Player Quotes

Head Coach Josh Heupel 

Opening statement… 
“Again, excited about the way our kids competed this Saturday and proud of our ability to find a way to win a game that was against a good opponent. Obviously, we did not play our best in some areas, but we found a way to come out on the right side of it. Extremely excited about that. Moving on, the kids were in the building this morning and had a good morning with them. Excited about getting back in our home stadium and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first night game at Neyland this week, too. We are excited and looking forward to the week.” 
 
On communicating to offense, the critiques even if they won the game… 
“This game is never going to be perfect. I said that after the game to the players, and I do all the time. There are things we can control, that we can be better. Offensively, the way we started. Really in all three phases of the football game, the way we started. The third quarter, just offensively and special teams, we need to be more dialed in—that’s coaches and players together. I am proud of the way that we finished and competed. The second quarter has been something we have placed an emphasis on in our off season and training camp. It was good to see us respond and play the second quarter the way we are capable of and come out on the right side of the scoreboard during that quarter. There are a lot of positives, but there are things—which this will always be true throughout the course of the season—that we have to continue to find a way to get better. The simple things that we control in all three phases of the game, how do we continue to get better to control those in a better way.” 
 
On the improvement in pass rush at the Pitt game compared to Ball State… 
“A lot of the same things that we did not have the same type of results. I do think they impacted the game in week one, too. The havoc numbers from the defensive line and our pressures from the second and third levels showed up. There are some things in coverage that we can tighten down and be better and more disciplined in that are going to force the quarterback to potentially hold on to the ball a little bit longer. In particular, in the first quarter I thought that showed up. The relentlessness, energy and strain from our defensive guys that were applying pressure to the quarterback was really strong all four quarters. I think that trumped out and won late in the football game, too. I was pleased with a lot of what we did up front.” 
 
On the punt block… 
“Combination of coaches and players together, being on the same page and being better in that situation.” 
 
On Jalin Hyatt and Bru McCoy and Cedric Tillman taking the majority of the snaps at wide receiver… 
“Just the way the game played out.” 
 
On how the team has improved in handling adverse situations in his time at Tennessee… 
“We were not ready in the beginning of last year either, and I thought we grew throughout the course of the season. We are different now than we were at the end of last year, too. The accountability that we have inside of our program, doing the right things in every area of your life, it shows up in how you play. The mental toughness, physical toughness and the ability to strain when things aren’t going your way, being relentless and playing together in all phases of the game. It’s just the growth of individuals and the growth of our units together. All that adds up to us having the ability to fight and win a game in overtime like we played.” 
 
On what has made Bru McCoy so effective… 
“He cares. I think that’s the number one thing. He’s in the building. From the moment he stepped foot inside of Knoxville, he’s been in our building. He’s constantly working to get better and understanding who he is as a player, what we do offensively, how to play efficiently with our communication system, how to get lined up and attack defenses, all of that is a big part of it. The competitiveness, the competitive drive that he has is a big part of why he spends that extra time in here. When you see him on the football field and the way that he competes, he’s highly competitive, he’s strong, and you can see that [Hendon Hooker] trusts him too, and we trust him as a staff. ” 
 
On getting the running backs involved in the passing game… 
“You guys see us. Who we are offensively, we have an identity, right? But then, as we face different defenses and how we want to attack them, different players get involved in the pass game. Those guys do a good job in protection, they do a good job running the football, but we’ve got to be better in ball security. Those guys catching the football out of the backfield is something that they’re capable of doing, and as we go out throughout the course of the season, you’ll see that show up.” 
 
On keeping the team locked in and not looking past the game against Akron… 
“The challenge every week is really us. And we talk about that every week. We talked about it this morning too. Our players have to buy into it. I didn’t think a couple of the practices last week were our best, and it showed up in the way that we played at times during the course of the football game. Our preparation has to be consistent, your process of how you approach and get to game day is what takes you to game day to play your best football. If you ever deviate from that plan and change it, you’re setting yourself up for failure. We talked about that in the team meeting today. College football has always been this way, but certainly this past weekend and the first weekend, you see it. Everybody’s got 85 (scholarship players) and they’ve got good coaching staffs, so you better prepare and be ready to compete in a really good way. Your competitiveness cannot deviate from week to week.” 
 
On Gerald Mincey playing the whole game at left tackle… 
“Just the way the game unfolded this week. We believe in J.J. (Jeremiah Crawford). He’ll have opportunities and will be a big part of what we do offensively.”

On if Aaron Beasley has been a surprise to the coaches… 
“Having a full offseason with us, physically, just changes his body. He’s got a much better understanding. His eyes are in the right spot so his keys at that position are taking him to the right gap to make the plays. He trusts what he’s seeing so when a puller happens, whatever his keys might be, you’re seeing him play extremely fast once he identifies it. You put all of those things together, that’s why he’s showing up the way that he did. The interception off the tip by Trevon Flowers in the back, he’s screaming downhill and applying pressure to the quarterback. He showed up a bunch during the course of the ball game.” 
  
On Jalin Hyatt’s success exemplifies Tennessee’s football program…
“Huge symbol of the things that we talk about paying off. You guys heard me talk about Theo Jackson a lot last year and how mature he was and how he competed, and it resulted in the way that he played. Jalin in the back third of last year and certainly this entire offseason is just a different individual in the way that he approaches every day and his process to getting himself to be ready play during the course of a game week and all offseason. Those examples go a lot further than me just talking about something inside of the team meeting room. Everybody inside of our program, talking about our players, can see the difference in that guy. You guys, when you see him walking down the hallway, can see the difference in him too.” 
  
On staying on track on third down… 
“Early in the football game it was simple execution. A lot of that being pitch and catch. A couple of penalties that got us behind the chains and one thing, in some of those drives, one thing led to another that put us in 3rd & long situations. The dominos can’t fall that way when you are playing a really good opponent and to have the success that you need to and want to have. There are some things we can control, Pitt is a really good defense, too. Normal downs they are and certainly on third down too.” 
  
On evaluating Hendon Hooker’s start at Pitt… 
“Coach Joey Halzle talked to him a little bit about his feet and his mechanics, just a little bit. Really just his feet, getting himself in a better position rhythmically. I think it is great that we came out on top in this football game, and we experienced some of those things during the course of the game that can help us as we go through this season. That’s individually for Hendon, it’s for any of our wideouts, it’s for us as an offensive unit, our entire football team continuing to compete and find a way to make a play at the end. There were a bunch of plays that Hendon made once he got into a better rhythm and into the flow of the football game.” 
  
On the goals against Akron … 
“Quarterback, when healthy, the guy has the ability to be involved in the run game. Some of that is by design, some of that is just on drop back, him scrambling. We’ve got to do a good job of applying pressure but containing him. We’ve got to do a better job out on the outside. Being more consistent in winning one-on-ones, and I’m talking about defensively. Offensively, multiple front and coverages and only being two weeks into their scheme, both offensively and defensively from them, you know there’s going to be something different that shows up on tape. As they continue to grow inside of what they’re doing as their personnel gets more comfortable in their system, so we have got to be able to adjust to what we see on Saturday too.” 
  
On quarterback pressure against Pittsburgh… 
“With just our front-four, there were times that we did a great job. Tyler Baron’s strip-sack at the end of the half. Obviously, Tre (Flowers) with pressure at the end of the football game. It was a combination of both of those things and, as the game went on, I thought the coverage on the back end forced them to hold it for another count. Early in the football game, we were a step short of being able to hit the quarterback. I thought the combination of what we were doing was really good. I thought coach Tim Banks and our defensive staff did a great job in game planning and preparation, had our guys ready to go compete.” 
  
On play calling flexibility… 
“At the end of the day we want to have balance in what we’re doing, right? But also structurally, what they’re doing, you have got to put your kids in the position to be able to attack them and stay ahead of the chains. It is always going to be a combination of that balance that you’re talking about.” 
  
On the advantages and disadvantages of interconference transfers… 
“I don’t know that I see it a whole lot different than just regular transfers. One other negative of it is someone leaving your program and they have what you do structurally, that can go out the door with them and go to their new place. Other than that, I think the transfer is just a part of college football at this point. Everybody is operating within it. A portion of what we do to maintain what we need inside of our roster. At the same time, it will never be the only thing that we are using to build our roster.” 

Senior LB Aaron Beasley

On his comfortability at linebacker and where he’s grown the most at the position…
“I have to say mentally, for the most part. Like you said, last year was really my first year getting my feet wet at the linebacker position. I feel like that played a big part. Having that experience and feeling more comfortable out there and having that confidence in my ability to play.”
 
On his ability to get to the quarterback consistently against Pitt…
“I feel like that’s just the team as a whole. My defensive linemen creating seams and opening up holes for me to run through. I think that’s the big part of why I’m getting those free hits on the quarterback.”
 
On the biggest difference in the team compared to previous years…
“I would have to say we’re just out there playing, playing fast, not thinking as much, not worried about messing up. We’re really out there just playing ball and playing fast. I think that’s the biggest thing for us.”

RS-Junior DB Wesley Walker

On transferring into Tennessee and overcoming an injury in fall camp…
“It was a little frustrating, but it was also something that was out of my control, so maybe if I was younger, I probably would have dwelled on it. I probably would have gotten angry a little, but it’s out of my control, the way it happened so I didn’t really take it to heart. I knew when I got back, I just had to get right back to it, get in the form I was getting to during camp, so I didn’t really stress it.”
 
On getting the first sack of the season for the defense and how well the defense uses defensive backs…
“I think this defense is very defensive back friendly because you know the ball is going to get out quick. That’s the play call intention for it to, so you can play with more confidence. Then you know defensive backs are used in blitzes, as well, so you get to disguise a lot better because some teams don’t blitz as much, and you try to act like you’re going to blitz in disguise (but) the offense won’t really go for it. But, we blitz so much that we can disguise a lot more because we run a lot of blitzes.”
 
On his sack in the Pitt game…
“It was really a good job by the whole defense. I went back and watched the play again. Everyone really held the disguise until the snap. I feel like the Pittsburgh quarterback, (Kedon) Slovis, checked the field. We wanted to show man, we showed man. After I feel like he saw the presentation we already knew post snap he was going to the boundary and that’s really what happened. When he snapped it, checked to the boundary, we ran the play then disguised it then ran the play that we ran. He checked the boundary, and we took away what he was looking for. I was there in time for him to not be able to look at his second read.”

 RS-Senior PK Chase McGrath

On his mentality stepping up to his 51-yard field goal against Pittsburgh…
“Just the same thing we worked all camp on really. Not much really goes through your head differently depending on a kick. Whether it’s a PAT or long field goal like that one in the fourth quarter. Just kind of did the same thing. Go out there with Matthew (Salansky), Paxton (Brooks), we’ve done it hundreds of times before. We got real good chemistry. Just go out there and make the kick.”
 
On trust coaches have in him on longer kicks…
“The coaches make their decisions on however they feel. They’ve seen what I can do in camp, and they got confidence in me and I’m extremely thankful I have Coach (Josh) Heupel, Coach (Mike) Ekeler. They are amazing coaches (and) I love playing for them. For them to put me out there for that opportunity this past game was awesome and I’m glad it worked out.”
 
On what his range is right now…
“Most days I’m pretty comfortable up to 55 (yards). I feel like I have a good consistency of hitting it from there. Depending on conditions, it may change depending on what direction (or) where the wind is at. I would say distance wise, 55 is where I’m comfortable.”

-UT Athletics

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