Tennessee started the 2021 season with a 38-6 victory over Bowling Green. This week on Vol Calls, Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel spoke about his thoughts on the matchup while also previewing the Vols’ next opponent, the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Coach Heupel began with some of the things that he liked about his team’s win.
“Effort, I think first and foremost. Our guys played hard. We knew we wouldn’t play perfect and there’s a lot of things we needed to correct and we have done that here early this week,” Heupel said.
Tennessee found major success running the football last week, rushing for 326 yards on 64 attempts. Josh Heupel is traditionally known for his lethal passing attack, so it was interesting to see the Vols rely so heavily on the run game.
“The other night, the way things unfolded structurally with what they were doing definitely gave us the ability to run the football, “ Heupel said. “We’re going to be a team that’s balanced and try to attack where we see some weaknesses and that can be structure, it can be personnel, and I thought our guys adjusted to the difference in what we had prepared for and what we saw really well, especially in the run game.”
Coach Heupel then commented briefly on the passing game after Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton went 11-of-23 with 139 yards and a touchdown.
“In the pass game, obviously there are some things, after a really good start, hot start, that can be corrected, need to be corrected and we’ll get right,” Heupel said.
The first quarter started tremendously for the Vols, as they scored quickly and easily on both of their first two drives. The momentum stalled in the second quarter, leading to a 14-6 score at the half.
The Tennessee defense played fairly well last week, keeping Bowling Green from reaching the end zone.
“I thought they communicated really well first, second and third level, being sound in their run fits, being able to communicate, make some checks on the field, live situations,” Heupel said. “I thought they handled the flow of the game extremely well. When they made a play they reset to the next one. They gave up a play, man they reset and competed on the next snap. Those are the things you don’t know about your football team really until you get into one of those situations.”
Pittsburgh is an opponent that Josh Heupel is very familiar with. He’s coached against the Panthers two of the last three seasons while the head coach at UCF. UCF beat Pitt 45-14 in 2018, while Pitt got revenge with a 35-34 victory in 2019. Coach Heupel continued by addressing his familiarity with the Panthers.
“Yeah, I think it’s overblown. There’s familiarity in the matchups and some of the personnel from our side of it just having gone against these guys a couple of times during the last three years,” he said.
Pittsburgh’s quarterback Kenny Pickett is a fifth-year senior with loads of game experience. Coach Heupel talked about the challenge of facing Pickett.
“They have a really experienced quarterback. I think this is the third different quarterback we’ve brought in a game as a staff against him. This guy’s been playing there for a long time,” Heupel said. “He plays at a really high level. He’s continued to improve every year that we’ve seen him. They put a ton of pressure on him, and I mean that they put the ball in his hands. They’re going to throw it around the yard, and he does a good job getting the ball out of his hands really quickly.”
Pitt is also known for rushing the passer. They’ve recorded 97 sacks the last two seasons and had five last week.
“They do a good job of balancing out what they’re doing inside of their pressure packages and still find a way to play pretty tight coverage on the outside, “ Heupel said. “We got to create some big plays against these guys and that’s on normal downs. You do not want to live in third-and-long against these guys.”
Saturday’s game is being dubbed the “Johnny Majors Classic” in honor of Tennessee and Pittsburgh legend Johnny Majors. Coach Heupel finished by talking about what the legacy and history of Johnny Majors mean to him.
“This is a guy that is a cornerstone piece of Tennessee football. The history and what he helped build here is really special and anybody that walks into Anderson Training Center understands the footprint that coach Majors has left on this program,” Heupel said. “It’s a guy that’s won and changed the culture everywhere that he’s been, player and coach, and the footprint and legacy that was left behind by him is really unique and special.”
The “Johnny Majors Classic” kicks off at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Sept. 11 at 12 p.m. EST.