Questions persisted around Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III entering his super senior season. Milton is in his third season as a major program’s starting quarterback (two at Tennessee and one at Michigan) but injuries and shaky play led to him not finishing either season as his team’s quarterback.
None of the questions about Milton surrounded his arm strength or ability. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound signal caller can make spectacular throws that make your jaw drop. He made them happen frequently a season ago while serving as Hendon Hooker’s backup.
The offseason questions about Milton revolved around his ability to process what the defense was doing and to make the routine plays that are so overlooked but important for quarterbacks to make.
In Tennessee’s season opener against Virginia, Milton had a nice scramble, dropped a bomb in Ramel Keyton’s arms (though he dropped it) and hit Keyton for a 41-yard gain. But none of those plays were Milton’s most impressive.
The veteran quarterback’s first touchdown pass of the season wasn’t spectacular. On fourth-and-five at the nine yard line, Milton worked through his progressions and fired an accurate pass to Dylan Sampson in the flat. Sampson beat the Virginia defense to the corner and scored the Vols’ first touchdown of the season.
First TD of the year, courtesy @dylans21527
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) September 2, 2023
“We threw about five ball over the top. Didn’t hit all of them. Hit some of them,” Tennessee offensive coordinator Joey Halzle said of the lack of deep passes the Vols’ threw in the opener. “He (Milton) played really well. He took what they gave him. He wasn’t just naturally trying to say alright I’m throwing this deep. He didn’t have any of those types of plays. When they (Virginia) were soft (in coverage) he dropped down, got outside, got to his second, third reads. First touchdown he threw was to his fourth read. It was really great to see him operate like that.”
The play largely represented Milton’s performance in the season opener. The quarterback did earn Co-SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance but threw for just a modest 201 yards.
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But the Vols’ signal caller was extremely solid in the win making few mistakes and not putting the ball in harm’s way.
“His eyes were in a great spot the entire time,” Halzle said. “(Virginia) brought a bunch of different looks but he never wavered where his eye discipline was which is why you saw him complete over 70% of his passes in the first game. He looked really good. He looked confident. He looked comfortable in the pocket.”
One of Milton’s only mistakes came in the second quarter when he snapped the ball before his receiver was set on third down before taking a sack that knocked Tennessee out of field goal range.
But Milton’s season debut was a good one. Especially when it comes to doing the little things well consistently.
Milton and Tennessee will look to keep things rolling in the right direction when they face Austin Peay Saturday evening at Neyland Stadium.