KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — After two straight losses to top 25 ranked SEC West schools, the Tennessee Volunteers (4-4) have completed their bye week and are looking to bounce back against SEC East rival No. 18 Kentucky (6-2) in Lexington.
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel started his press conference Monday afternoon by sharing his excitement about seeing his team back in the team’s facilities and how they’re ready to take on the Kentucky Wildcats.
“Huge week here, obviously as we push forward to Kentucky, a good football team. They play extremely well at home and are a huge test for us to go on the road. Night ball game should be a great environment and one that our kids are looking forward to. I mentioned it last week, a big part of it was getting our guys healthy, I think we have made some progress in that way during the bye week.”
He also added that it was great for him and his coaching staff to get out and about across Tennessee recruiting and said they have received some great feedback.
Heupel said maintaining a competitive spirit as the season goes on is a main factor in playing better towards the end of the year. “Not just on the field and on game day but it’s your practice habits, it’s how you’re doing everything in your lead-up to kickoff. Your depth, the health of your football team can play a part in that. I think it’s important for our football team to really stay focused on the things that you can control and continue to get better. We pointed out from the last football game ways that all of us can get better coaches and players alike.”
The Wildcats are coming off of their first two losses of the season on either side of their week 8 bye. Kentucky lost 30-13 against the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs on Oct. 16 and were defeated 31-17 by Mississippi State on Oct. 30.
Heupel said the team knows that Kentucky is a good football team and that watching film has shown their product they put on the field. “They’re big, strong, athletic, physical and they know their schemes offensively and defensively extremely well. They got out to a good start the other night, didn’t finish the way they wanted to. We know that we’re going to get a great effort from the, it’s going to be a great competitive environment. You got to be excited and physically and mentally ready to go compete for 60 minutes.”
The Vols have been hurt by injuries and depth throughout the season, and when asked about the availability of some key players for the Kentucky game, Heupel didn’t give too much away but sounded positive.
“I don’t want to say anything concrete. I do think all of those guys are leaning towards having the opportunity to play. We gave most of those guys a bulk of the time off last week and have seen those guys back in the building today moving around a little bit.”
During the 2020 all-SEC schedule season, the Vols were routed by the Wildcats at Neyland Stadium 34-7 under ex-coach Jeremy Pruitt. Looking back, it was penalties, turnovers, poor coaching and the lack of converting on third down that led to the beatdown.
Historically, Tennessee has won almost 70% (81 games) of the 116 contests between the two schools. There was even a time the Vols won 26 straight against the Cats from 1985-2010.
Heupel and company will look to start a new win streak Saturday night in Lexington. That game is set to kick off at 7 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN2.