Josh Heupel took to the podium on Monday afternoon in Knoxville, kicking off UTSA week and sifting through the mess that was the Florida game last Saturday night. Heupel spoke about mental mistakes, injuries, Joe Milton’s performance and more.
Below are the highlights.
Ten penalties for 79 yards on Saturday isn’t going to cut it. Tough environment, sure, but through three games, Tennessee ranks 111th in the FBS with eight penalties per game. They rank 107th in penalties yards surrendered. That’s just not winning football, and it’s something that has to change quickly.
“You look at offensively, in particular, we total self inflicted wounds— that can be penalties, that can be unforced errors, it can be communication— our percentage is way too high,” Heupel said. It was on Saturday and it really was the week before too. So that’s why you move the ball at times but don’t have very many points. We have to clean that up. You can’t beat yourself.
“I do think you can’t let one play affect another and that certainly happened in the course of the first half in particular.”
Tennessee does have a big lingering injury that would help this issue, at least up front offensively. Getting center Cooper Mays back will be an obvious boost, whenever that happens.
Gerald Mincey update
“We just decided not to play him on the offensive side of the ball,” Heupel said. “We just made that decision.”
You knew you weren’t going to get much here. Mincey did not play on offense, but he did take snaps on special teams. It seems like it’s a simple as this — Mincey was cited last Thursday night for simple possession, and his punishment was being held out of the offense. JJ Crawford struggled in his place, and Tennessee didn’t want to change up things on special teams, where they likely haven’t built as much depth as they have on offense.
Will he play against UTSA? That’s either to be determined, or Heupel isn’t willing to say.
“We have a long week here,” Heupel answered. “We’ll go through the week.”
Why didn’t Dylan Sampson play?
Considering how much Sampson had played in the first two weeks, his absence on Saturday night was particularly notable. Sampson took to social media to voice his frustration after the game.
Heupel admitted that Sampson was dealing with a minor injury, but he could have still played.
“He was (available),” Heupel confirmed. “He’s been a little nicked up but he was available. We had plans of having him in the rotation and I think on both sides of the football the flow of the game, in particular in the first half, probably we didn’t rotate the way we anticipated going into the football game and probably as much as we needed to too.”
We saw Tennessee roll with two backs for the most part of last year, and the staff went right back to that plan in the first game of conference play. Will that continue?
Offensive line play
Center Cooper Mays didn’t play on Saturday night after Josh Heupel spent most of the week sounding very optimistic about his chances. His absence, plus no Gerald Mincey, was a big issue for Tennessee. Those problems, along with the mental errors, have to be fixed quickly or SEC play is going to be a big struggle.
“At the end of the day, just not as consistent as we needed them to be,” Heupel said. “And that’s really the entire offensive unit. I thought the wide receivers took a step in the right direction from how they had performed the previous weeks but collectively as a group just not as consistent as we need to be to go on the road to play a good team and be able to move the football and ultimately score points. The self inflicted wounds, that goes into how you’re scoring in the red zone too. It’s not a game of unlimited opportunities. You have to maximize them. You can’t put yourself in first-and-20 and try to play ball.”
The Tennessee staff continues to praise the play of quarterback Joe Milton, who connected on 20-34 of his passes for 287 yards for two touchdowns and one interception.
“There’s some real positives,” Heupel said. “The efficiency, the communication, handling all that. We have to be better. (Joe’s) got to be better. And the guys up front got to be better, too. And some of the skill guys as well.”
Though Milton hasn’t been outright bad, the offense just isn’t clicking like it was a year ago. Again, it’s unfair to expect that it would without some transition time, but the Volunteers aren’t even in the zip code as they were with Hendon Hooker. Is that on Milton, or maybe the receivers? Both, according to Heupel.
“He did some really good things the other night,” Heupel continued. “The pick, we can’t just throw it up. Would like to have that one back. We’ve got to be better in protection, too, in that situation. The decision-making, where he’s going with the football — I said it before the game. I’ll say it after the game, too. He was in the right spots. Accuracy, wide receivers being exact in their routes — all those things gotta continue to improve for us to be as efficient as we need to be.”
Picking up the pieces
Tennessee doesn’t have much time to iron these issues out. A potentially tricky game against UTSA comes this weekend, then it’s right into the teeth of your SEC schedule.
“We’re just getting going in this week — the first thing is it better hurt and it better matter,” Heupel said of his team’s attitude. “You could see that from our players yesterday and today. I think I said it earlier, at the same time, all those lessons have got to move forward, but you’ve also got to wash this one clean, you know what I mean? When our players come back later today, we’ve got to move on to the next one. That’ll be really important for us as a staff and as a program.”