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Muschamp previews Tennessee; talks wide receivers, tight ends, more

The wide receiver group is coming along, and the tight ends...we’ll see!

Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Game week continues to roll on, with coach Will Muchamp’s first press conference of the year. Below are the highlights:

On the quarterback situation

“Collin’s the starter. No different than any other position — he knows there’s an expectation for how he needs to play. ... Guys need to play well, and if they don’t play well, we’ll talk about a change. But it’s Collin’s game.”

On Tonka Hemingway’s growth into becoming the No. 2 defensive end

“Tonka’s very, very mature, and I always tell young players when they come in the program, everywhere I’ve been, number one with playing early — you gotta have an opportunity. That’s the first thing. You gotta have the ability, and we felt he was a very talented young man coming out of Conway High School. You gotta have maturity, you gotta be able to handle the playbook, you gotta be able to handle different coaching styles, you gotta be able to handle a faster game, especially playing along the line of scrimmage, and Tonka is a very, very mature young man — mature beyond his years. He’s extremely intelligent. ... You don’t have to coach him over and over again on the same things over and over again.”

On Dakereon Joyner’s ceiling at wide receiver

“Very unfair to him last year — we moved him to receiver, he’s completely bought in and wants to do it, and then a week and a half later he’s back playing quarterback. He didn’t have a year, he didn’t have a spring practice to go through to learn all the different nuances of a new position, so there’s still some learning going on, which is to be expected. The great thing about Dakereon is he’s very competitive, intelligent, smart. ... We have a high expectation for him, he has a high expectation for himself.”

On measuring offensive success

“Scoring points. At the end of the day, we’ve gotta be more productive. I think we scored one touchdown in the last three games last year, and we lost a lot of confidence, which doesn’t just affect your offense — it affects your football team, it affects everything. I’ve been very pleased with what Mike (Bobo) has done and our offensive staff, and the buy-in from the offensive players. We’ve had more success offensively in a fall camp than we’ve had in a long time here, as far as being productive, being aggressive, doing the things we need to do to be successful. I measure it on winning games because that’s the bottom line, but we need to score more points. ... You can go back and look at different areas — obviously the red zone was a major issue for us last year, passing yards per attempt was horrible; our ability to run the football in games kept us in ball games to be able to take the pressure off a tough situation for Ryan (Hilinski). We didn’t do enough around that position as a staff, and I’m not blaming anybody, it’s on me as the head football coach — we didn’t do enough around that position to help that position, considering where we were. We ended up throwing the ball more than anybody else in the regular season in our conference, and that’s not a winning formula considering where we were.”

On the development of the wide receivers

“I think we’ve made tremendous strides. I think Shi’s (Smith) had a really good camp, he’s had a lot of explosive plays through camp, he’s a very difficult guy to cover whether he’s lined up outside or in the slot. Xavier Legette, I think the last week and a half, has been really good — a guy that’s really come on for us and done some really nice things. Dakereon continues to improve every single day he steps on the field. ... Ger-Cari Caldwell on some 50-50 balls in scrimmage situations has made some really nice plays on the ball. Then you got a guy like Luke Doty, as a young player that obviously with Jalen (Brooks) not eligible right now is going to figure in even more in that group.”

On the youth and unproven depth at tight end

“I think it’s very concerning. You really look past Nick (Muse), we don’t have anyone who’s really logged a bunch of snaps in games even though Will’s (Register) a junior. As far as Saturday night’s concerned, I think we’ve done a good job incorporating them within the offense; it’s something Mike really likes to utilize. I do think we’ve got some ability at the position, but we haven’t seen them do it Saturday night at Williams-Brice or on the road in the Southeastern Conference, and it’s gonna have to happen quick and it’s gonna have to happen Saturday night. ... The tight end position is very involved in what we do offensively and it’s all encompassing, because you’re not just in the route schemes; you’re in the route schemes, you’re in protection, you’re also in the run game, and a lot of times, you’re at the point of attack and winning on a six-technique in this league. A lot has been asked of those guys, and maybe more than before.”

NOTES: Linebacker Jahmar Brown is questionable. ... Defensive tackle Alex Huntley sprained his ankle, and is likely just out for this week. ... Defensive back Jaylan Foster has been put on scholarship. ... The Gamecocks will be tested for COVID-19 again on Thursday, and we’ll know if anyone’s missing the game for that reason about an hour before kickoff, according to Muschamp.