Quotes: No. 5 Vols Aim For Fast Start, Strong Finish At South Carolina

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Ahead of the Vols’ trip to South Carolina this weekend, Tennessee football head coach Josh Heupel held his weekly Thursday press conference to wrap up media proceedings for the week. With a 10-win regular season in sight, the No. 5 Volunteers (9-1, 5-1 SEC) head to a sold-out Williams-Brice Stadium for an SEC East matchup with the Gamecocks (6-4, 3-4) Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
 
In last year’s meeting with South Carolina, the high-octane Vols debuted their “Dark Mode” alternate uniforms, raced out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and cruised to a 45-20 victory inside Neyland Stadium. Heupel was asked Thursday about the importance of getting out to another fast start against the Gamecocks this weekend, which has been a signature of the offense since he took the helm on Rocky Top 22 months ago.

“That’s something that we talk about and want to do in every football game,” Heupel said. “All offseason, we talked about starting fast, finishing strong. If it doesn’t, I think it’s important that your kids settle back into the ball game and understand that’s okay. It’s a 60-minute game. No matter how it starts, what it looks like in the middle, you have to continue to put on more steam. It’s one of the maxims, one of the things that we talk about all the time. We’d love to, but let’s go play football for 60.”
 
The Big Orange will don a fourth alternate uniform of the season this weekend as UT is set to debut a Tennessee orange helmet for the first time since 1948. From 1937-48, the Volunteers wore tan-orange leather helmets before plastic helmets became the norm in the late 1940s.
 
Selected by the 2022 squad’s leadership council, the new orange helmet features a white Tennessee ‘Power T’ logo decal on either side with a solid white stripe down the middle and a white facemask. Heupel was asked Thursday about his thoughts on the alternate looks the Big Orange have donned this year and his appreciation for the traditional combinations.
 
“I get excited for the kids when they’re excited about it,” Heupel said. “Our classic uniforms are as good as there is. Love them. I think our players, and recruits, but our players love being able to put a twist on things. This week, the orange helmets, they wore them a week ago just trying to break them in. When they saw that, there was some excitement from them. I think it’s awesome. These were worn a long time ago, but it’s still part of our tradition (and) being able to celebrate that. When, players get a chance to be a part of picking things out—our leadership council was a part of picking these out last spring—a lot of excitement from them.”
 
Thursday’s press conference transcript can be viewed below.

Tennessee Football Press Conference | Nov. 17, 2022
 
Head Coach Josh Heupel

On if the team changed its preparation in terms of preparing for the noise level Saturday, or if it just needs better execution…
“It’s about better execution and everybody being ready and prepared for it in a better way. We’ve done the ordinary things and believe we’ll handle it in a better way.”
 
On what he has seen from South Carolina’s run game…
“It’s pivotal to who they are in playing ahead of the chains. With the multiple formations and some of the motion game, you have to do a great job of communication at all three levels. Gap integrity is going to be pivotal in this. Their running back is strong, physical, explosive and has made big plays. We have to do a great job of handling him. We have to tackle extremely well in this one.”
 
On a status update on Cedric Tillman and Omari Thomas
“Those guys have been with us all week, so we’ll find out on gameday. Really tomorrow we’ll have a better idea, but some of it is on gameday, obviously.”
 
On if Tennessee’s recent number of sacks allowed is concerning…
“That’s a number you don’t want, for sure. It’s about us doing a little bit of a better job. I said it earlier in the week. It’s everybody that’s a part of it. It’s the five guys up front, the running backs, tight ends and the quarterback getting things out on time and being right with your reads. It’s about wide receivers winning and being where you’re supposed to be, too. I anticipate us playing good football Saturday.”
 
On how much emphasis the team has placed on preparing for South Carolina’s special teams…
“It’s an emphasis every week. I think special teams is unique in that you’re out there for one play. You don’t get a second set of downs to go get it right. You have to handle the opportunity. It’s like playing defense, though. There are alignments and assignments, and you have rules to be able to handle different formations or whatever it might be when you’re on a defensive return type of unit. Your kids have to be dialed in to all of those things and be able to adjust. Then, you have to go play with integrity on that play. A year ago, we were in a safe position. We just didn’t execute and handle it the right way. You have to expect the unexpected with these guys, for sure.”
 
On importance of getting off to quick start on Saturday…
“Would love to. That’s something that we talk about and want to do in every football game. All offseason, we talked about starting fast, finishing strong. If it doesn’t, I think it’s important that your kids settle back into the ball game and understand that’s okay. It’s a 60-minute game. No matter how it starts, what it looks like in the middle, you have to continue to put on more steam. It’s one of the maxims, one of the things that we talk about all the time. We’d love to, but let’s go play football for 60.”
 
On preparation playing a team that you beat soundly the year before…
“One play doesn’t have anything to do with the next play in a game. Last week doesn’t have anything to do with it. One of the things that I think has been good about our players is their ability to reset and continue to compete no matter what’s happened. Last year has absolutely (nothing to do with it). It’s two different football teams.”
 
On if he knew he needed this production from Ramel Keyton
“I believed he had the opportunity to go play at a really high level. You don’t know until they go do it. His growth, offseason, just who he was, how he competed, what he did on the practice field, consistency in habits, lended itself to us believing that he would perform at a really high level if or when the opportunity came. We don’t change anything; you can tell Hendon (Hooker) has great trust in him. He’s performed really well in every opportunity that he’s got.”
 
On if he enjoys the alternate uniform combinations…
“I get excited for the kids when they’re excited about it. Our classic uniforms are as good as there is. Love them. I think our players, and recruits, but our players love being able to put a twist on things. This week, the orange helmets, they wore them a week ago just trying to break them in. When they saw that, there was some excitement from them. I think it’s awesome. These were worn a long time ago, but it’s still part of our tradition (and) being able to celebrate that. When, players get a chance to be a part of picking things out—our leadership council was a part of picking these out last spring—a lot of excitement from them.”
 
On Tyler Baron’s performance this season…
“His best football is still a long way out in front of him, which is a real compliment to him. High expectations from myself and our staff about what he can continue to become. His versatility, you saw him moving inside at times, too. He’s done that on third downs, but some normal downs as well. Played with great technique, fundamentals, was disruptive, made tackles, was able to get off of blocks all day long. Need him to continue to escalate and elevate his play.”

-UT Athletics

Vols HC Josh Heupel / Credit: UT Athletics

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