Third-year head coach Josh Heupel recapped the Vols’ win after the game.
“Really proud of our team, our program,” Heupel said. “I thought it during the course of our preparation, but they were very intentional, focused when they went into the meeting, went on the practice field. They were engaged and they competed hard. That was true in our preparation back home. It was true, while we were here. They enjoyed the bowl festivities at the same time. I thought it was a great balance, and they came out and played as though they had prepared the right way, and proud of the performance.
“You look defensively, violent and disruptive on the line of scrimmage. Handled the run game really the entire day. Mashed things out on their boot game and got off the field on third downs. The front applied so much pressure during the course of it. James (Pearce Jr.) did an unbelievable job the entire day. Obviously, everybody saw the big pick, and he was in the backfield and made it uncomfortable for the quarterback all day long. Offensively, efficient enough. Nico (Iamaleava) played really well. First-time starter. There was nothing that was too big for him. Never got rattled. Very composed, in control, communication, controlling the run game, just did an unbelievable job, decision-making, and then made plays with his feet as well. At the end of the day, we played all three phases well together. That was the challenge for us going into this one. That is a really good football team that we played today that has had a tremendous amount of success this season, but over coach’s (Kirk Ferentz) tenure, got a great amount of respect for who he is and how he conducts his program. Great way to finish the 2023 season and to kick off the ’24.”
Photo by Dan Harralson, Vols Wire