Vols embrace challenge of facing No. 1 Alabama

Published 9:01 am Friday, October 14, 2022

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Two days out from the 105th all-time meeting between the Volunteers and Alabama on the gridiron, Tennessee football head coach Josh Heupel met with members of the media Thursday morning to preview the top-10 rivalry matchup. The two storied programs meet on The Third Saturday in October as unbeatens for the first time since 1989 on Saturday inside Neyland Stadium (CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET).

The national spotlight will shine on Knoxville this weekend as ESPN’s College GameDay returns to Tennessee for the second time in four weeks, while SEC Network’s SEC Nation and Marty & McGee will also originate live from campus on Saturday morning.

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With all the history surrounding Saturday’s bout between the sixth-ranked Vols and third-ranked Tide, Heupel said the importance of keeping his team even-keeled while also taking small moments to enjoy the build-up to what promises to be an electric atmosphere.

“You better enjoy it,” Heupel said. “There has been a lot of work that has gone on from our staff and our players to be able to play in games like this that matter from the outside. To have this type of attention, you should enjoy Vol Walk. There is not a better pregame experience in all of college football than that. The energy inside of our stadium when you are running through the T, you better enjoy that moment.”

When the ball kicks off and clock starts running, however, it is time to lock in and focus on the task at hand.

“Now, when the ball is kicked off, it’s 11-on-11, you have to reset,” he said. “You have to be focused on your job at a really high level. When you are on the sidelines, you have to be able to take adjustments and then go execute them. You have to be in the moment, but for a brief second you can enjoy the buildup and the lead up to kick off. I think our players have handled it in a pretty good way this year.”

Off to its first 5-0 start since 2016, Tennessee is seeking its first win over the Tide since 2006 in Knoxville. While recognizing the magnitude of the matchup, Heupel understands the past has no bearing on the outcome of Saturday’s game and has echoed that sentiment within the Big Orange locker room.

“This is a big one because it’s the next one,” Heupel said. “Obviously, this is a rivalry game too. We understand the type of opponent that we’re playing. It’s a big game for everybody inside the program because this is the one we got on Saturday afternoon. For our fanbase, our former players, understanding the importance that this is one of the games that everybody circles. At the same time, there’s not a play that we made or didn’t make last week that’s going to help us in this one. The same is true with this rivalry over here over the recent years. For everybody inside of our program, it’s about this week, this opportunity.”