Tennessee football’s 29-16 SEC opening loss at Florida was an ugly one. The Vols’ offense sputtered particularly in the first half when they failed to cross midfield on four straight drives. But Tennessee offensive coordinator Joey Halzle doesn’t place the blame at quarterback Joe Milton’s feet.
“Joe was really good with his decision making and his calmness on the sidelines,” Halzle said. “He kept the calm within the storm out there. Talking to him on the headset, after every single drive he was like, ‘cool. Move on. What do we have coming next?’ So the guy is really even keeled. His decision making is really good. Was accurate with the football. The guy played a good game. Was happy with that.”
Both Halzle and head coach Josh Heupel placed Tennessee’s offensive struggles on a small handful of things. Struggles in short yardage and red zone situations were two of them but the pre snap penalties and operational issues were chief amongst them.
When a reporter asked Halzle if backup quarterback Nico Iamaleava would have addressed any of those deficiencies, the first-year offensive coordinator was adamant in his denial.
“No,” Halze said.
“Because it’s operation (issues) and Joe is operating at a really high level,” Halzle said.
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Milton completed 20-of-34 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the loss. His second quarter interception, which gave Florida the ball inside the Vols’ red zone, along with a third quarter third down when Heupel took a timeout because Milton was unaware of the play clock were the veteran quarterback’s only glaring mistakes in the loss.
The third-year Tennessee quarterback and sixth-year senior wasn’t perfect besides that but had no other clear mistakes. Halzle emphasized that need to improve after defending his starting quarterback.
“Obviously we can always be better,” Halzle said. “We can be pushing for our communication for how we all get on the same page in an environment like that when it’s harder to hear and it’s not the friendly confines. That’s where we are pushing to grow but his overall game management was very good.”
Milton has a chance to bounce back this week when the Vols face UTSA before their SEC home opener against South Carolina.