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Josh Heupel explains Tennessee's 'Don't look at the damn scoreboard!' philosophy

Vols' second-year coach sees growth, maturity in No. 24 Vols

His team comfortably ahead, throttling visiting Ball State 38-0 at halftime, and on its way to a turnstile-like 86 players getting into the game, Tennessee coach Josh Heupel issued a succinct but substantive statement to the Volunteers at halftime of their 2022 season opener.

“Go fight, strain and compete your ass off for the next 30 minutes,” Heupel barked inside the Vols’ locker room beneath the north end zone of Neyland Stadium. “Do not look up at the damn scoreboard!

“Everybody got me? All right. One team!”

To which the Vols’ players responded, “One heartbeat!”

And on the field, Tennessee continued to respond to its second-year head coach. The Vols, led by sensational quarterback Hendon Hooker, scored on their opening possession out of halftime and coasted to a 59-10 win against the Cardinals.

The victory, coupled with the team’s strong close to the 2021 season, helped Tennessee vault into this week’s AP Top 25. The No. 24 Vols (1-0) visit No. 17 Pittsburgh (1-0) Saturday.

During Wednesday’s Southeastern Conference coaches’ teleconference, Heupel shined some insight into his ignore-the-scoreboard mentality.

“I think, you know with whether you’re up or down, you’re trying to focus on playing each play independently and competing in a fierce way,” Heupel said. “I thought our kids did that on Thursday.”

It actually was how Heupel’s starters and upperclassmen responded when they were not in the game that helped the former UCF head man see in real time his program’s growth in culture.

“There were some young guys that you put in a ballgame and them getting an opportunity,” Heupel said, “they are a little bit not focused and it can get real sloppy, real quick.

“Obviously there was the one offensive series where we turned it over with our young guys that we would like back. I thought, for the most part, our focus and the way we competed during the course of the ballgame was really positive.

“One of the things I noticed was the way our starters were invested when they were on the sideline, and it was the young guys’ turn.”

Heupel praised the growth.

“They (older players) were into the game just like they were going to go back out there and play,” Heupel said. “That speaks a little bit to our growth and maturity standpoint from where we were a year ago at this time.”