No. 12 Tennessee (7-2, 3-2 SEC) will play at No. 15 Missouri (7-2, 3-2) on Saturday in Week 11.
Kickoff between the Vols and Tigers is slated for 3:30 p.m. EST (CBS) at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Missouri.
Ahead of Saturday’s Southeastern Conference East matchup, third-year Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel met with media and previewed game week.
“Saturday, Veterans Day, just want to acknowledge everybody that has and is serving our country,” Heupel said. “We, and I, appreciate everything that you’re doing, your sacrifices that you make, have made and continue to make for your family, as well.
“Big game this week. Really good football team that we have an opportunity to play. You look at what they’re doing in all three phases of the game. They’re playing extremely well. Look at their results throughout the course of the season, continue to play smart, physical football, both sides of the line of scrimmage in particular. It’ll be a huge test for us. Looking forward to seeing Vol nation show up, they’ve been awesome on the road this year. We certainly want to see a lot of orange when we get there to Columbia, too. Appreciate everybody making that trip.”
Everything Heupel said previewing the Tennessee-Missouri game is listed below.
On winning the line of scrimmage so far this season
“Just the growth from our program, where we started to where we are now. It starts with personnel, having good players on the line of scrimmage. We have guys that have played a lot of football on both sides of the line of scrimmage too that continue to get better. We’ve had an influx of some young guys that are dynamic and change the way the game is played. With all that being said, you talk about d-lineman and offensive lineman, the other position groups have a great effect on that, too. Offensively, your tight ends, the growth of our running backs, the quarterback being involved in that. Defensively, you look at our linebackers and safeties, how they’re playing, being able to tie all three levels of the defense together. I think that’s been a huge part of the growth of our program since we arrived here. We’re going to need that here as we continue through this journey this season, in particular this week. You look at Missouri, they’re extremely good up front. Running back (Cody Schrader) is dynamic, I think he leads the league in rushing. Obviously for us offensively, we have to maintain balance. They’ve been really good against the run.”
On the importance of certain players getting rest last week before the final stretch of the season
“Opportunity for them to get completely healthy here. They all had an opportunity, would’ve been available if we felt like we needed them to, but just elected not to play them in that game. It’ll be big to have all those guys back fresh and ready to roll.”
On his takeaway from veterans and young players as he watches the tape from UConn
“Biggest thing, I talked about it with our team today in the team meeting, was really proud of whoever stepped in, the way they competed, how hard they played, but also how well they played within our schemes and the fundamentals. It didn’t matter who was in the game, they went out there and played at a really high level. That was true defensively, special teams and offensively. To finish the game that way, the way that we did, it’s probably one of the best finishes in a game like that where you got a lot of guys in that I’ve had in my coaching career.”
On specific things he has seen from Missouri quarterback Brady Cook
“He’s smart, he’s accurate with the football and he is athletic. Has the ability to affect the game with his feet. We have to do a great job in the pass game. We have to affect him, not let him be comfortable in the pocket. While doing that, you cannot let him escape the pocket. He’ll be dynamic and make big plays with his feet and his arm as he breaks contain. He’s obviously a part of their run game too and can hurt you there.”
On Rickey Gibson’s growth and his adjustment to the speed of the game
“It will continue to slow down for him as he continues to grow as a player. It’s just the evolution of being a young player and understanding everything that’s going on around you. That’s understanding what the guys around you are doing, their responsibilities, but understanding formation, route concepts, understanding your fits, being able to go out there and play instead of having to think. He’s dynamic, really athletic, competitive, willing to stick his face in the fan in the run game, too, or on perimeter screens, go tackle. Love the growth that we’ve seen from him and a lot of those young DBs. I thought they all did a really nice job when they got in on Saturday.”
On the challenges of slowing down Missouri wide receiver Luther Burden III and how to balance slowing down a balanced offense like Missouri’s
“You have to be really good in the run game. Everything will play off of that, too. They create a lot of big plays with chunk plays, designed shots down the football field. He’s a really good player. When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s difficult to bring down. They do a good job of moving him around too where you have to track where he’s at for some of the ball-in-hands. They try to find matchups for him. We have to do a great job against him. He’s not the only wide receiver, they have a really good core group of wide receivers that are dynamic.”
On how much he enjoyed the offense celebrating Nico Iamaleava’s first career touchdown
“Your first one is always a big one as an individual player. For Nico and then for the guys around him too, to be excited for him and what he did, that’s offensive linemen, skill guys, it’s Joe (Milton III), it’s everybody. They see the work that he puts in, the type of player that he is, and that was a big moment for him.”
On why they continue to run the regular offense with third and fourth-string players in the game
“There are times where you need to slow it down. In that football game, our guys have not had an opportunity to play the way that we play. I thought it was important to be able to evaluate them, but for them to also have the experience of playing how we play. That can be a backup quarterbacks in Nico, Gaston (Moore). It can be your young offensive linemen. It’s one of their first game experiences. For us to evaluate them, for them to have the opportunity to grow, knowing you’re going to need some of those guys here in the next few weeks. I just think it’s really important to let those guys go play.”
On going into a big-time matchup against Missouri
“At the end of the day, they’re a good football team. They play well in all three phases. They’re smart, tough and competitive. That’s why they’ve played the way they have throughout the course of the season. You can tell that they’re prepared every single week. We know that we are going to get their best, and it’s our job to make sure that we are at our best too.”
On what he saw from Elijah Simmons on Saturday
“He’s a guy that’s continuing to get healthy here. He got banged up on the back end of training camp. He’s been out there and competed well. I think he’s at his best physically. He was dynamic in the run game. You look at the short yardage play, I think the ball is on the two-yard line, and he does a great job getting off and essentially blowing up the A gap making it bubble. We have James (Pearce Jr.) and Tyler (Baron) out on the outside who make a play when the ball bounces. He did a good job of being violent and disruptive in the passing game too, chasing the quarterback. Probably played his best football. I think most of all, it’s indicative of him being his healthiest.”
On how difficult it is for other teams to prepare for a balanced offensive attack
“I think when you are balanced, it forces the defense to defend the entire field all of the time. To do that, you have to be good up front, have your quarterback be a good decision maker and have good skill guys. We are fortunate, we have continued to grow and are starting to play some of our best ball and most consistent, in particular out on the perimeter. Every Saturday is a different challenge based on structures, what you’re seeing from the defense, their personnel and how you have to attack it.”
On the SEC’s projected picks the NFL draft
“The draft is a long way away. I would assume at the end of this year that this league has a lot of people drafted. I base that off of the film that I watch every single week. There are dynamic players that are going to be playing on Sundays. In this league, I can kind of view it this way. You look at the 11 guys on offense, defense and special teams; almost all of those guys will end up being in the NFL in some form or fashion. The older guys, you can tell that they’re older. The younger guys are younger and are going to grow into that. This league is littered with talent.”
On some traits that he has seen in Missouri’s defense
“Fast, aggressive, they tackle extremely well. They play a bunch of man on the outside. They’re going to make you earn it. You look at them statistically, and defensively they’re playing the run extremely well and are one of the top teams in the country in creating sacks. They have really good players up front, and they do it with pressure. Their first, second and third levels are tied in together extremely well.”
On what has fueled the growth of the receivers the last few games
“I wish there was some special recipe that we put together. Just continued growth throughout the course of the season. Guys understanding their jobs and continuing to grow in it. We’ve had moving pieces. Guys have played inside and outside. At the end of the day, I feel like they’re at their most comfortable that they’ve been in understanding their schemes, what they’re seeing on the other side and being on the same page with Joe (Milton III). It comes down to execution.”
On how rewarding it is to get players in the game that do not play a lot
“It’s important for guys that work and compete all year long. When they get an opportunity and get in the football game, it’s great to see those guys play at a really high level. Those guys are instrumental in who we are as a program, and you love getting them an opportunity to play, whoever or however many guys you can, based on the score of the game.”