Quotes: Vols Looking Forward to Closing Strong Saturday Night

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – With one game remaining in the regular season, the ninth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers recalibrated and regrouped Monday morning inside Anderson Training Center and are looking to finish off the 2022 season strong on the road Saturday night at Vanderbilt.

Tennessee is on the hunt for its 10th victory of the season, which would be the first 10-win regular season since 2003 and first 10-win season overall since 2007. This weekend’s test grows in stature with every week as Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-5 SEC) is riding a two-game win streak after defeating Kentucky on the road two weeks ago, 24-21, then downing Florida, 31-24, last Saturday at home. It will take focus and a fresh attitude following Saturday’s defeat for the Vols to finish the year the right way.

“You have to cut it clean and you have to flush it,” head coach Josh Heupel said at the podium Monday afternoon. “That shows in your energy in the building, it shows in your approach in the meeting room, it shows with the energy and competitiveness that you have out on the practice field. Looking back a week ago, I told the team today, too, I liked a lot of what we did during the course of the week. The mindset and approach at the end of the week is going to be important in this one too.”

Inside the building, the members of the team feel no carryover going into the week of prep. Aaron Beasley and Omari Thomas both conveyed the motivation for this team to continue to achieve and continue to perform at a high level, even through adversity.

“I feel like we’re going to get back to work, starting tomorrow with our Tuesday practice,” Beasley, a senior linebacker said. “I feel like we just go lean on each other. We have to be there for each other and go back to work. We have to hone in on the details and just go back to work.”

“We know that we still have the chance to play for a New Year’s Six bowl,” the junior defensive lineman Thomas said. “That’s a big thing for this program. I don’t really know when the last time was that we played for a New Year’s Six bowl.”

With much at stake and much still left to achieve, the Volunteers return to Haslam Field tomorrow morning as preparation for Vanderbilt continues. Kickoff on Saturday, Nov. 26, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET, 6:30 p.m. CT inside of FirstBank Stadium in Nashville on SEC Network.

A full transcript of Coach Heupel, Omari Thomas and Aaron Beasley can be found below.

Tennessee Football Press Conference | Nov. 21, 2022 
Head Coach Josh Heupel 

Opening statement… 
“Happy Thanksgiving week to everybody. I hope everybody has safe travels, enjoys some time with their family and gets a chance to watch some football at the end of the week. Just looking backwards, we’re obviously disappointed with the outcome. Everybody inside of our program was. You can still feel it a little bit from the guys today as we started, as they came into the building. We got a chance to watch the tape with them. It was an opportunity to learn and grow. I told the guys that we have to cut that one off and move forward as soon as we got out of the team meeting. We had an opportunity to get out on the grass with them a little bit, move them around, and we’ll see them later today. We’re looking forward to competing. This is a big game. It’s one of the games that’s circled by a big portion of our fanbase. It’s obviously an in-state game. It’s important that we go finish this off the right way. We still have a lot of things that we’re playing for. First and foremost, this is just our next opportunity to go play together, so we’re looking forward to that opportunity.” 

On Jeremy Banks… 
“We anticipate Jeremy being with us here this week. As far as what transpired and those types of things, at the end of the day he wasn’t available this Saturday.” 

On if there was a certain common denominator that South Carolina’s offense took advantage of Saturday… 
“We’re disappointed. The players are too. It’s a prideful group that’s played well at times. Obviously, this was not a good performance. It was more missed assignments. We didn’t tackle well. There were some things that we controlled. Obviously, they played well too. We’re disappointed in those things. We didn’t defeat blocks. That’s up front and that’s out on the perimeter. We didn’t make plays in space. Those are things that, at the end of the day, you have to do. We have to learn from it, grow from it and be better.” 

On Hendon Hooker’s career at Tennessee… 
“I hate it for him, with just how much he’s poured into it, the competitor that he is and how much he’s grown. The opportunity here is still on the backend of the season for him. He represents everything good in college football. He’s a young man who’s learned how to become a grown man, who does it the right way, who cares about his teammates, who’s grown outside of the game, who’s grown inside of the game and who’s put himself in a position to have a great future in the game, too. I just hate that we don’t get a chance to go compete with him again and that he doesn’t have that opportunity. For him and his future, he’ll make some decisions here during the course of this week and start moving on, as far as getting healthy. We’re going to do everything that we can to help him in that process.” 

On if he has to game plan differently with Joe Milton III due to injuries on the depth chart… 
“Gaston (Moore) and Navy (Shuler) are two guys that have been in our system for a while, Gaston in particular. With Joe, we have to go play and find a way to win this game. We’ll use him as needed in the run game, too. Joe has grown a bunch. You guys have seen the way that he’s played when he’s been given the opportunity. He has really good command of what we’re doing. We don’t change what we do. He’ll be ready to go in this one.” 
 
On how much improved Milton is in the run game compared to last season… 
“I think he’s a lot more comfortable in what we’re doing. In the run game and in just his decision-making process with his eyes and all of it, he’s a lot further ahead than where we saw him at the beginning of last season. The guys around him have changed too. I anticipate him playing at a really high level.” 
 
On what he has seen from Vanderbilt after two consecutive SEC wins… 
“They’re playing as a team. They’ve created turnovers, created plays on special teams. Defensively, they’ve done a nice job here the last couple of weeks of making you earn it. They play hard. They’re physical. You see that in all three phases of the game. From them, the quarterback run game is potentially a portion of what they’re going to do in this one. We have to do a really good job of handling that and defeating blocks. Numbers are a part of that. Then, you have to win on the outside, too. We have to do a better job than we did a week ago with big, strong, physical wideouts. Offensively, we have to be efficient and play ahead of the chains. You guys hear me talk about it. We need to start fast in this one too. Defensively over the last couple of weeks, we haven’t started as fast as we’re capable of. We need to start fast in this one.” 
 
On what he saw in the film that could be cleaned up schematically… 
“There’s probably a couple of things coach Banks would change, but you’re trying to balance everything too, you know what I mean? From your numbers count in the box to protecting your guys out on the outside. At the end of the day, there are some plays we’re capable of making that we didn’t make in some of the one-on-one situations. We just didn’t play well enough.” 
 
On making sure there is no carryover from last week to this week… 
“You have to cut it clean and you have to flush it. That shows in your energy in the building, it shows in your approach in the meeting room, it shows with the energy and competitiveness that you have out on the practice field. Looking back a week ago, I told the team today, too, I liked a lot of what we did during the course of the week. The mindset and approach at the end of the week is going to be important in this one too. Obviously, Thanksgiving creates something unique this week.” 
 
On who will step up as a leader in Hendon Hooker’s place… 
“Hendon is a strong leader, there is absolutely no doubt. He’ll be in the building here at the beginning part of the week too. I think that’s important that his teammates see him and feel him too, but we have a lot of strong leadership. It’s not just one guy from within our locker room. We have a bunch of prideful guys. That’s why we’ve continued to improve as a program over the two years since I’ve been here. This one should be and will be important to our guys. Go finish. There’s a lot that we’re playing for. In life and in this game, you have to finish strong. We’re obviously at the tail end of our regular season. It’s important to finish it the right way” 
 
On the fanbase’s admiration of Hendon Hooker… 
“It’s been a great journey with him, watching him through the journey. What he means to this program currently, but long term too. He has an unbelievable legacy that he’s built here, and he’s built it along with his teammates. I got a question a minute ago just about being able to finish. Man, this team is playing for a legacy too in how you finish things. Hendon playing at as high a level as anybody in college football, anybody I’ve ever been around and just the competitor that he is, everybody can see that. He’s been a huge part of setting some really solid cornerstone pieces to what this program is and is going to be in the future.” 
 
On Brandon Turnage… 
“Don’t have an update on Brandon, we’ll see here later this week.” 
 
On Hendon Hooker receiving the recognition for his performance this season… 
“For Hendon, he’s not going to have an opportunity to play the last regular season game, but the rest of the season, there’s no one playing at a higher level than he has. You can see that in the way we’ve played. The number’s he’s put up, he absolutely deserves the opportunity to be there (at the Heisman Trophy ceremony). Some of the quarterback awards, anticipate him having an opportunity to win those.” 
 
On Joe Milton III’s psyche since Saturday night knowing he is in line to start… 
“You continue to invest. The guys that put the most into it inevitably get it rewarded back to them. You don’t know when, you don’t know how, but he’ll be prepared in a great way for this one. (He’s) been really consistent in the preparation as the backup all season long. Yesterday, he’s in the building watching tape like he normally does. We’ll have a great plan for him and expect him to go play at a really high level and execute.” 
 
On the difficulty to keep a backup quarterback with experience from transferring… 
“We talked about it during the offseason when he chose to stay, and you guys were asking those same questions. It’s hard, it’s rare. I think it speaks to the culture in the building and the culture inside of the quarterback room (and) his understanding of how he can grow as a player. At the end of the day, the biggest competition you have is with yourself to continue to develop and become the player that you are capable of. He has approached it the right way. I think it is a great lesson for a lot of guys throughout college football.” 
 
On his conversations with Hendon Hooker after the injury… 
“In the locker room afterwards before he had a final determination, you love on him. Emotional for him too. More realization for him yesterday after he gets the results from everything medically. He comes back this morning and he has great energy. He has a huge smile on his face. You can see how he has gone through his journey and why he has been able to have success through all the ups and downs. He is so consistent, very positive and was able to flip forward. There is no doubt he will be successful on the back end of this too.” 
 
On the team’s response since Saturday… 
“This morning, you can still feel the sense of pain and opportunity lost as they came up the stairs in the position room. I thought as they exited the team room, and really when we got out on the field, there was good energy in what we were doing today. We will see them against later today, but anticipate our guys having a great week of preparation and practice. I really do.” 

On Doneiko Slaughter… 
“Doneiko, do not know anything at this point but will know more at the back end of the week.” 

On if he is evaluating Joe Milton III for this week or potentially for next season…
“This week is all about this week. That’s it. Let’s go finish this off the right way. We have an opportunity to finish with 10 regular season wins, which has not been done here in a long time, and put us in the best bowl situation we can be in. This football team has come a long way. It’s grown, it’s competed. It’s all about this week.” 

Junior DL Omari Thomas

On what happened during the loss against South Carolina…
“Just going back and getting the chance to watch the film, we saw that we didn’t execute well. We didn’t really focus on the small details that we normally hone in on. We just really didn’t execute well as a defense.”
 
On if the team is aware of the bowl game opportunities still within reach…
“We’re aware. We know that we still have the chance to play for a New Year’s Six bowl. That’s a big thing for this program. I don’t really know when the last time was that we played for a New Year’s Six bowl, but I know that it’s still something that we’re looking forward to. We just have to go out here this week and handle business against Vandy, let the chips fall where they fall and hopefully we get to play in a New Year’s Six bowl.”
 
On if there was a shift in mentality during practices that led to the loss against South Carolina…
“Honestly, I feel that this past week we actually had a good practice. I feel like everybody was locked in for real. Everybody came in and was trying to get better as the week went on and was focused on the small details. Just different things we were seeing, we literally saw in practice, we just didn’t execute in the game. We saw it on film, it was just different things like that. It was just a bad day for us. As far as practice goes, I felt like we were locked in and had good practices the whole week. We we’re ready to go out there and play, honestly. It just didn’t click for us that game.”

Senior LB Aaron Beasley

On fixing the defense’s mentality going into the Vanderbilt game…
“We just got to go back to the drawing board. This really just shows how much we actually love the game, how much we actually love our job. Go out there, change the script again, try to end the season on a good note.”
 
On if there is concern on motivation for Vanderbilt game…
“In my opinion, no. I feel like we’re going to get back to work, starting tomorrow with our Tuesday practice. I feel like we just go lean on each other. We got to be there for each other and go back to work. We got to hone in on the details and just go back to work.”
 
On who is going to step up in a leadership role…
“I feel like we just got to come together as a team. We got to really love on each other, really encourage each other, not really worry about what happened last week. Just come together, because as the end of the day we’re all we got in that family over there. We just got to lean on each other.”

-UT Athletics

Vols LB Aaron Beasley / Credit: UT Athletics

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