Quotes: No. 11 Vols Embracing ‘Electric’ Stage As Florida Matchup Draws Near

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With ESPN College GameDay in town and a nationally televised matchup with the 20th-ranked Florida Gators on tap for this weekend, there is plenty of buzz surrounding the University of Tennessee campus. The 11th-ranked Volunteers are off to a 3-0 start to the 2022 campaign with one of the top scoring offenses in the country and looking to carry that momentum into the conference opener on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS).

In head coach Josh Heupel‘s Thursday press conference, he discussed his team embracing the opportunity to play on such a big stage while maintaining the same level of preparation and attention to detail in facing its SEC East divisional rival.

“Our guys have been really good,” Heupel said in his post-walkthrough remarks. “The focus has been really good. The practices have been intentional in the way that they’ve approached it. The next 48 hours, continuing our prep and finishing our preparation will be a big part of it. The outside noise, the opportunity that’s here, you work to have these opportunities. Earlier in the week, I told our players to enjoy the fact that we have this opportunity, but that has nothing to do with how we play. We have to prepare the right way. We’ve been pretty good up to this point, so we have to finish it out.”
 
With a second consecutive sellout crowd set to fill Neyland Stadium this weekend, Saturday’s matchup is expected to serve as one of the top atmospheres in college football this season. The #CheckerNeyland fan initiative returns for the second year in a row, showcasing Tennessee’s iconic checkerboard pattern throughout Neyland Stadium.
 
Heupel spoke to the impact that 101,915 fans can impose upon a football game and how that makes Tennessee a unique challenge for visiting foes.
 
“(The atmosphere) can have a huge impact on the game,” Heupel said. “I expect it to have a huge impact on the game and make it as hard as possible for (Florida) to communicate … There’s nothing better than game day here in Knoxville, Tennessee. It starts when we load the buses and drive over. You can see the fans along the river, whether that’s on the boats or tailgating on the other side of it. When you get out for the Vol Walk and there are 40,000 people, there’s nothing like it in college sports.
 
“I expect it to be absolutely electric for 60 minutes.”
 
Vols Celebrate 100 Years of Orange Jerseys
The Vols will don their traditional uniform combination on Saturday—running out of the ‘T’ wearing white helmets, orange tops and white pants. Friday marks the 100-year anniversary of the first appearance of UT’s orange jerseys, as Tennessee defeated Emory & Henry 50-0 on Sept. 23, 1922.
 
A complete transcript from Heupel’s Thursday press conference can be viewed below.

Tennessee Football Press Conference | Sept. 22, 2022

Head Coach Josh Heupel

Opening statement…
“Good day today. Excited to get to kickoff here. Next 48 hours will be critical, finishing our prep. Ready to go play a great football game.”

On Cedric Tillman’s availability at practice…
“All those guys that were nicked up last week, those guys, we are going to find out in the next couple of days where they are at and their availability for the game. Hopeful with all of them.”

On Florida’s run game…
“First of all, they have good skill players. They’re big, strong, physical up front. You have to be able to handle their unbalanced sets, communicate and be gapped out. Because of the athletes that have the ball in their hands, you have to do a great job of tackling. That’s the running backs, but it’s the quarterbacks too.”

On Florida defensive lineman Desmond Watson…
“He’s a unique body, just body type. His athleticism at that size is rare. Cooper (Mays) has gone against a guy like that before. We’ve gone against it as an offensive line. The battle in the trenches this week will be a big part in how the football game unfolds, and we have to do a good job on the offensive line of controlling their entire front, not just him.”

On how they evaluate offensive play calling on fourth down…
“We talk about it as a staff in our gameday meeting, just my thought process and how situations might unfold in different field zones. There’s a feel for the game too, and how things are structurally playing out and your matchups during the course of it.”

On if the team has stayed focused on the game with extra press…
“Early in the week, there was a little bit extra. There’s probably a little bit here on the back end of the week too on Friday afternoon before we get to Saturday. Our guys have been really good. The focus has been really good. The practices have been intentional in the way that they’ve approached it. The next 48 hours, continuing our prep and finishing our preparation will be a big part of it. The outside noise, the opportunity that’s here, you work to have these opportunities. Earlier in the week, I told our players to enjoy the fact that we have this opportunity, but that has nothing to do with how we play. We have to prepare the right way. We’ve been pretty good up to this point, so we have to finish it out.”

On the challenges that Florida’s secondary presents…
“I just think, in general, they are really good football players that have played a bunch of football. We have seen their ability to be in coverage and do a really good job of that, and then their ability to tackle in space. Inevitably, most of your run game is designed where the ball is going to get to the third level, and your back has to make that guy miss to create some big plays. That will be a big part of the game here. I talked about handling their front, but their safeties do a great job in their run fits too.”

On what he sees in Florida QB Anthony Richardson…
“He has the ability and arm talent to push the football down the football field; they have playmakers on the outside. His ability to be a factor in the run game, that can be quarterback-designed run game, that can be the read game, and that can be him scrambling outside the pocket when his reads are not open. He has the ability to create huge plays in the run game; we have to bottle him up in the pocket, not let him get out. We have to do a great job of tackling him in space. His combination of athleticism and size is rare at that position, and it can be an issue at times. Crowd noise, I cannot imagine that this will not be the loudest stadium in the country on Saturday. I cannot imagine that it would not be that way. It was loud last year at times, and certainly here in the early part of the season, but I expect it to be absolutely electric for 60 minutes.”

On if he likes his receivers against Florida’s defensive backs in press coverage…
“It’s another game within the game – matchup within the game – that will have a huge bearing on the game. We have to be able to go win against those guys; it is press coverage and we believe in our guys. That’s a part of how we play, and we believe in the guys that we have out there.”

On how he gets his team to tackle in space…
“Tackling is about your eyes being right and body position. You can emphasize those things in every drill, every team setting, and how you finish every play that you have. If you’re in those positions, I’m not going to say tackling takes care of itself, but it kind of does. We work things in non-physical portions, working on donuts and those types of things as well. We did more during the course of training camp than we did a year ago because our team was deeper. We had better practice habits, so were able to do those things and not put kids in as vulnerable situations. Tackling will be a big part of the game on Saturday.”

On balancing the recruits attending the game Saturday, preparing for the game Saturday, and what the atmosphere will be like…
“(The atmosphere) can have a huge impact on the game. I expect it to have a huge impact on the game and make it as hard as possible for (Florida) to communicate. I expect our crowd to be a huge factor in the game, but it’s also a great environment for our recruits to be able to see what game day looks like here. There’s nothing better than game day here in Knoxville, Tennessee. It starts when we load the buses and drive over. You can see the fans along the river, whether that’s on the boats or tailgating on the other side of it. When you get out for the Vol Walk and there are 40,000 people, there’s nothing like it in college sports. Recruiting wise, it’s a huge weekend for us. You don’t do anything that takes away from your preparation or your players preparation, the game is the most important thing. Those moments that you have an opportunity to, the recruiting piece is vital to the continued growth of our program.”

On telling the players to embrace the stage of this game…
“Because it is impossible to block out the noise in today’s world. It is absolutely impossible. So, they are going to see it and hear it. You can’t let it affect what matters, which is the preparation. Everybody is going to want to win on game day. You have to do what it takes to win. I think that is important. Our kids should be, and are excited about this one. It is always big when we play Florida. So, embrace that at the beginning of the week, and then be consistent. If you guys were out at practice, you know the energy. You have heard me speak, it is not a whole lot different. We are business-like in our approach. Our kids have a much better understanding of how to prepare, and now we have to finish it and go play.”

-UT Athletics

Neyland Stadium / Credit: UT Athletics

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