By Don Stone: Georgia Tech Express
It’s game week!
After months of uncertainty, the 2020 football season is finally upon us. UCF will kick things off this Saturday at Georgia Tech with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on ABC.
The Yellow Jackets, in year two under head coach Geoff Collins, hit the field last weekend and stunned Florida State in Tallahassee, 16-13. True freshman quarterback Jeff Sims overcame some early miscues to help orchestrate a second half-comeback.
UCF head coach Josh Heupel returned to the Bounce House press conference room on Monday for his weekly press conference, though this year the questions are coming in via Zoom. Here’s everything he had to say:
“Game week is finally here. Excited that we get to kick this thing off. Look at all the adversity and the uncertainty that every team across America has faced and we faced as well. Today as our guys got on the field, it was awesome to see them get started on their Monday routine. A lot of energy. Looking forward to this week. I told them with everything that has gone on, have fun and enjoy this week. Let’s get prepared to go play our best football and have a lot of fun doing it.”
More on opening the season amid the uncertainty:
“As a head coach, our coaching staff and players together, you think about the amount of time spent away from each other. That’s the exact opposite of how you usually operate when you have a team culture. Between three and four and a half months away from each other, really, when you look at it, during the course of late spring to when everybody came back in the summer. There’s so much time spent away from each other. So much uncertainty. You look socially all the things that have happened. The awareness and opportunities for our kids to make a difference in our communities. A platform to communicate to the public. All the things we’ve encountered.
“One, I think when we started training camp it took our kids a couple days just to get back in the flow of it and realize this is a safe place and we’re going to take care of them. Some things will be different but some things the same as well. It took them a couple days to relax and enjoy the process of being together with each other again. The same is true this week. We get an opportunity to go play football. With all the uncertainty we faced beforehand, they put in a lot of work. This is a tough game played by tough men. At the same time, enjoy the process of leading up to kickoff. We actually get an opportunity to go play football this Saturday. Enjoy that, relish it and let’s have fun getting ready.”
On the advantages of being able to watch Georgia Tech play FSU a week earlier:
“You get an opportunity to see how they’re going to be different in some schemes. Where they are going to play some personnel in all three phases of the game. In that way, it’s a benefit. They’re also a game ahead of us. They get a chance to correct. This is our first go at it. Our kids are excited. The last two weeks we’ve talked about focusing in on our preparation. Understanding the nuances and the detail of what we are doing. Then be ready to adjust as we get into game day. What we’ve seen on tape through this first week and what we’ve seen last year, they’re going to have wrinkles that are different in their preparation for us.”
On whether he noticed heightened emotions of his players during Monday’s practice:
“I got a great sense of that even late last week. We still did a lot of good work last week, implementing maybe a few things in our preparation. Today we did a full game plan… Late last week, I thought the energy and focus at practice was different in a positive way. We have different chat groups. One is the leadership council. As they were watching football this Saturday, you can see comments throughout the entire day. On some of the things we talked about, playing smart, playing with energy. The difference walking into a stadium this season vs. previous years just with a fewer amount of fans or completely empty. Today for a Monday, I felt like there was a lot of energy. They’re ready to get after it and get prepared and go play.”
On the offensive line and Parker Boudreaux:
“Parker has had a really good camp. He’s played a lot of football for us a year ago. Probably played 80 to 85 percent of the snaps in each football game a year ago. He’s tough. He’s physical. He cares about his teammates. Those are attributes important on a football team, but really important on an offensive line. The communication of those guys, they have to work in unison. I do think we’ve developed a lot of depth and the flexibility to have moving parts in our front five guys. Multiple guys playing at different positions. Sam Jackson is a guy that a year ago played some guard, played some tackle. I think that’s critical this year. One, less time in your lead-up. Preparation in June and July as far as them being in your weight room. The strength and conditioning part of it. You may have to play more guys in the early part of the season and have more rotation than you’ve had in the past.”
On the status of eligibility waivers for transfers:
“Don’t have a complete status on those transfers yet. I’ll decline on commenting on those guys at this moment.”
On Georgia Tech and their freshman QB Jeff Sims:
“I thought Jeff played really well the other night. I thought he was smart in his decision making besides a couple critical ones down in the red zone area. I thought he managed the game really well for his first time being out on the field. Used his feet in certain situations to make the play right, whether that was escaping or some of the quarterback runs they designed. I thought he played really well. I think it’s critical for us that we create negative plays and get him into third-and-long situations. Try to put him in uncomfortable situations. That’s true with every quarterback.”
“Don’t have any more. The guys that are feel really comfortable. Those guys who opted out, we understand the situation. For a lot of those guys, there’s unique circumstances. Whether that’s secondary issues for themselves or they may be living with other people that have secondary issues. We’re going to always support those guys. We’re still helping them in every way that we can. Look forward to our guys who have been here get prepared to go play football this year. I think this year more than any other year, you’re dependent not just on your starters but the guys underneath them being ready to play. We’ve got three tests. We just finished one. Talking about COVID tests this week. We’ll play it by ear. If you’re given today, you take full advantage of it.”
On who won some battles on the offensive line, particularly at tackle:
“We expect multiple guys to play. This is true in every year. We’ll finalize our starting rotation as we get to the end of the week. There’s still a build-up in our preparation. We’ve had enough competition. We understand we’ll play multiple guys at multiple spots. Who walks out for the first snap will be decided later in the week.”
On dealing with team travel during the COVID era:
“First and foremost is the safety and health of everybody inside your program. Starting with the players, but your staff as well. Our medical department has done a phenomenal of taking care of us inside the building. They’re continuing to finalize each and every detail as far as travel. Our guys got some of that information today. How they’ll be sleeping. Our eating habits will be different. Making sure that we’re socially distancing. Our meetings, making sure that they’re safe. All of that in the lead-up to kickoff.”
On Quadry Jones seeing action at QB and a status update for McKenzie Milton:
“McKenzie won’t play in this football game. Probably the first couple weeks of the season. He’s continuing to do more and more out at practice. His health is continuing to get better. He’s throwing with our guys, moving around in the pocket, doing some of those things. I think as he gets more and more comfortable. For us at the quarterback position, Quadry has had a phenomenal camp. Our staff and our players have a ton of confidence in him. I think the strength of any one position on a football team can never be one guy and that’s true of the quarterback position as well. I like how those guys work together and how they communicate in the meeting room. They’re really positive with each other on the football field. That’s critical for what happens during the course of a football game, having that positive energy and positive voice and the guys understanding that around you.”