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Josh Heupel talks UConn matchup

Get set for Saturday.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee gets a break from SEC play on Saturday, set to welcome in UConn for a homecoming matchup. The Huskies are just 1-7 on the year, failing to sustain momentum from their surprising six-win season a year ago.

The Volunteers shouldn’t have many issues here. UConn ranks 128th in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings, showing the 126th ranked offense and the 113th ranked defense in FBS. It’s a potential sleepy spot for Tennessee, with kickoff set for noon ET.

“Good teams continue to get better throughout the course of the season,” Josh Heupel said when asked about motivation. “If you cheat the game, the game is going to kick you right in the rear end. It’s been our message to our team this week, but it’s also consistent with what we preach every single week. We have to continue to get better. We have not played four quarters of our best football yet. That’s the challenge for us, to go out and continue to get better.”

Tennessee bounced back from that disappointing second half in Tuscaloosa, rising to the occasion on the road against Kentucky. The Vols put up 253 rushing yards in Lexington, and Joe Milton turned in another really solid outing under center. Keeping that momentum rolling ahead of huge games (Missouri, Georgia) in the coming weeks has to be the goal.

Interestingly enough, Tennessee has really struggled against inferior opponents. They were sloppy all day long against Austin Peay, then had some shaky moments in the second half against UTSA. Even against Virginia it took a while to get going. Tennessee will be looking to put this one on ice early and move focus to a big road trip next weekend at Missouri.

UConn hasn’t been horrible in recent weeks, either. They were able to take South Florida, Utah State and Boston College down the to wire, while picking up their lone win of the year against Rice. They’ve really only been blown out once this season — a 41-7 loss at Duke.

“They play hard, they compete,” Heupel said of UConn. “They’ve been in a lot of close football games. Last week against Boston College, you can see that they play three phases of the game together. Coach (Jim Mora) is a great coach. They’ve had to battle through some injuries during the course of the season. For us, we have to play really smart football. We have to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of it. There’s going to be one on one opportunities out on the outside, and we have to go win some of those too.”

UConn’s 97th ranked run defense will be put to the test early and often against Tennessee’s 7th ranked rushing attack. It should be a chance for Dylan Sampson, Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright to put up some big numbers as the Tennessee front will more than likely control the game.

Tennessee remains a 35 point favorite, per DraftKings Sportsbook.

Kickoff is set for noon ET. SEC Network will have the call.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.