Vols Are Heading Into the Stretch Run

Rested and Motivated Vols Ready For Stretch Run

Football November 01, 2021

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Fresh off an open week, a well-rested Tennessee team was back inside the Anderson Training Center on Monday morning to begin preparations for an important SEC East battle against No. 18 Kentucky this weekend.

Head coach Josh Heupel, tight end Jacob Warren and wide receiver JaVonta Payton met with the media on Monday afternoon to preview the Vols’ matchup with the 18th-ranked Wildcats.

ADVERTISING”Huge week here, obviously, as we push forward to Kentucky. Good football team, they play extremely well at home,” Heupel said. “Huge test for us to go on the road, night ball game, should be a great environment. One that our kids are looking forward to.”

Payton said the team feels rested and ready for the November stretch run, which begins 7 p.m. Saturday night at Kroger Field in Lexington.

“I most definitely think that everybody is feeling pretty good,” Payton said. “Those few off days that we had, everybody being able to go home, get their rest, hang out with family, do what they got to do on Halloween, it was pretty much a good two days that we had and I’m pretty sure everybody is back and ready to get going.”

With just four regular season games remaining, the focus for coaches and players alike is finishing the season strong. Heupel has proven to be able to get his teams ready to play following open weeks, posting a 5-1 record during his three seasons as head coach at UCF coming off a bye.

“I think the biggest thing is just, everybody remembers what you do in November right? Say we lose a game here, lose a game there, win one here but it is all going to come down to these last four games,” Warren said. “Thinking about bowl eligibility and you know, how we finish versus how we start. That whole thing is driving us to keep getting better and try to keep pushing through the season.” 

The full video and transcript of Heupel’s Monday press conference as well as select player quotes can be seen below.

Heupel Full Transcript

Opening statement…
​”Great to have guys back in the building. It’s only been three or four days, but it feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve got a chance to see them. Feel a little bit about the same way with you guys, too. Huge week here obviously, as we push forward to Kentucky. Good football team. They play extremely well at home. Huge test for us to go on the road, night ball game. Should be a great environment, one that our kids are looking forward to. I mentioned it last week, big part of it was just getting our guys healthy. I think we made some progress in that way during the bye week and looking forward to getting back on the field with the guys tomorrow and building towards game week.

“For our staff, the end of last week (was) a great opportunity for us to get out across the state and really throughout our recruiting footprint. It was a huge, huge thing for us. Excited about the feedback that we got, just as you get on the road, from fans, alumni. And then obviously, as we got into high schools and talking with coaches, too, they see the progress that our program is making, the way that we’re playing, and the product that we are putting out on the field. Obviously, I think they have a great sense of who we are and what we’re doing inside the building too, and how all of those things build to a great experience while you’re playing here at Tennessee. Excited about what we did last week, and for us now at this point, now it’s push forward and get ready for Kentucky.”

On factors that determine if a team plays better at the end of the season…“Your ability to maintain your competitive spirit. That’s not just on the field on gameday, but it’s your practice habits. It’s how you’re doing everything in your lead up to kickoff. Your depth, the health of your football team, can play a part in that, but I think it’s important for our football team to really stay focused on the things that you can control, continue to get better. We pointed out from the last ballgame ways that all of us can get better, coaches and players alike. Last week, I thought our practice habits were really good when we were on the field and in the meeting room. We’ve got to get back into our routine and continue to grow.”

On if scheme is expanded or narrowed at the end of the year…
“I think a lot of what your scheme involves every single week is predicated based on personnel that you’re seeing on the other side of the football and the scheme that you’re seeing. You’re trying to put your kids in a position to be successful. There’s things that are a huge part of your DNA that you’re going to find ways to run—offensively, defensively, and special teams—every single week, and then suddenly you’ve got to find the nuances that you need to put your kids in the best position to be successful as you get ready to play every week.”

On his preferences on when bye week falls during the season…
“You handle it based on them giving it to you. You don’t have control over it. I think it came out at a pretty good time for us. You’re two thirds of the way through the season. You guys know that we were banged up at certain positions in particular. It was an opportunity for us to get healthy and move forward.”

On the idea that Kentucky is likely to play better the week after a bad performance…
“We know that Kentucky’s a really good football team. Got a chance to watch some video on them last week. Obviously, our kids started today to kind of refresh the course, and we’ll have to push in a great way. Know the product that they’re going to put out there. They’re big, strong, athletic, physical. They know their schemes offensively and defensively extremely well. Got out to a good start the other night, didn’t finish it the way that they wanted to. Know that we’re going to get a great effort from them. It’s going to be a great environment, a great competitive environment. We’ve got to be excited and physically and mentally ready to go and compete for 60 minutes.”

On breaking down Kentucky’s defensive front and simulating colder temperatures during practice…
“Temperature for us is something our kids get exposed to. Here the last couple of weeks in particular of being out in some chilly weather, should be fairly similar to what we see at the beginning for kickoff on Saturday night. You talk about the experience up front. Your kids have to know it. You have to be the most excited team on the football field. No matter what the elements are, you have to be ready to go compete. It’s why during spring ball, we’re outside every single day and when elements hit, we try to get out inside of them, whether it’s rain or whatever it might be, to make sure that your kids get those experiences. Our kids will be ready to handle the cold here this week.

“Up front, defensively, they’re multiple in what they do, three- and four-down fronts. I think they’re extremely thick in the middle of it. Their nose tackle is going to be a massive guy that’s hard to move, whether that’s the one or the two. They’re strong and long out on the edges of that front as well. For us, being on the same page, being able to move and change the line of scrimmage. Our double teams are going to have to be really good during the course of this football game.”

On why Wan’Dale Robinson gets a lot of the targets in Kentucky’s offense…“They’re going to target him, or try to target him, just because of his skillset. Extremely fast, reliable as far as catching the football. Creates a bunch of explosive plays. He’s able to do that with some short and intermediate passes, screen game, and then some isolations out on the outside. He’s somebody that we’ve got to know where he’s at the entire game.”

On what people are seeing that is driving Hendon Hooker’s new reputation…“Consistency in the way that he’s played throughout the course of the season, his ability to get better every single week, his efficiency at the quarterback position. For the most part, he’s taken great care of the football, been accurate on short, intermediate, and deep throws, his ability to use his feet. All those factors compile and give him an opportunity to have an opportunity at some point to have a career at the next level, too.”

On Harrison Bailey transferring…
“Harrison’s been a really good teammate inside of our program from the time that I’ve gotten in here. In some ways, disappointed (about) the timing of when he makes his decision. It’s a different era in college athletics with the transfer portal over the last couple of years. Because of who he is and what he’s been about, I love both the person and the player, and wish him a ton of success as he moves on.”

On the status of injured players…
“I don’t want to say anything concrete at this moment. I do think all of those guys are leaning towards having the opportunity to play. We gave most of those guys the bulk of the time off last week. I’ve seen those guys back in the building today moving around a little bit. We’ll find out a more when we get on the field here Tuesday and Wednesday, but I think those guys will have an opportunity to play.”

On who will be in the third string quarterback spot for the future…
“All of our walk-on quarterbacks will be competing for that. They did last week, and we’ll do it this week too.”
 

Player Quotes

Jacob Warren – TE – Redshirt Junior

On motivation for the rest of the season…
“I think the biggest thing is just, everybody remembers what you do in November right? You know you could, say we lose a game here, lose a game there, win one here but it is all going to come down to these last four games. Thinking about bowl eligibility and you know, how we finish versus how we start. That whole thing is driving us to keep getting better and try to keep pushing through the season.” 

On Hendon Hooker’s growth throughout the season….
“Hendon is a guy that has always played with confidence and his confidence radiates. It is not really cockiness, but he knows his preparation is right and he does things the right way. I think that it has just grown ever since we have seen him blow up in all these different games against these different opponents. He realizes that he is what everyone is trying to say he is, he’s a good player and he knows we trust him. He’s getting a lot of experience under his belt. I know at VT (Virginia Tech) he played a lot, but with this squad, I think he is really starting to settle in.”

On development of other young tight ends…
“The biggest improvement that I have seen has been their commitment to, like coach calls it, the process. I love seeing them start to care about, you know, these little things that we’re talking about that don’t necessarily make you an amazing football player, but that are going to grow you as a person, which then in turn, will make you a better player. I am just happy to see that they are buying into the things that me and Coach (Alex) Golesh are trying to tell them. They are growing as people and it’s really good to see.” 

JaVonta Payton – WR – Senior

On Hendon Hooker’s improvement throughout the year…
“Just us getting reps, continuous reps in practice every day. Just getting better every day, getting better at the details, the small things like making sure we get the right depth at each route, making sure we’re executing on everything we have to do. That’s really where it comes from.”

On what makes him so successful on deep routes…
“I would say one of my big factors that helps is me being fast. Running track growing up really helped me with my speed and a lot of the times where I do score it’s early in the game where a lot of teams like to play man or off man and with my speed that I have, that’s an advantage of being able to get space before I make my decision on my routes. So, you know it just comes from me being able to run, pretty much, faster than my defender.”

On how he feels everyone responded to the open week…
“I most definitely think that everybody is feeling pretty good, even myself, I’m feeling pretty good myself. Those few off days that we had, everybody being able to go home, get their rest, hang out with family, do what they got to do on Halloween, it was pretty much a good two days that we had and I’m pretty sure everybody is back and ready to get going.”

Blogs

Headlines