The 2023 season has been anything but a smooth ride for super senior quarterback Joe Milton III. Milton has struggled, at times badly, while still playing well enough to quarterback the Vols to a 6-2 (3-2 SEC) record at the end of October.
But as the calendar turns to November, Milton is coming off two of his best games of the season. The biggest similarity in the games? Tennessee using Milton as a ball carrier— particularly early in games.
“I do think it helps him settle into the game, absolutely, he said that himself,” Tennessee OC and QB coach Joey Halzle said on Tuesday. “He likes to get a couple carries early and kind of feel like he is in the flow of the game. Yeah, that absolutely has factored into it.”
The Vols’ last two games are the only two games this season where Milton has totaled double-digit runs. The veteran quarterback ran for 59 yards on 15 carries at Alabama and 26 yards on 10 carries at Kentucky. Both of those numbers are lessened by five total sacks.
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Not all of Milton’s running success has come on designed runs. But the early designed runs are helping Milton get in the flow of the game, and the super senior quarterback is extending plays at a higher rate than he has in his entire career.
It’s hard to gauge just how important the early game runs have been for Milton but he is definitively playing better since the Vols’ offensive staff made it an emphasis.
“He is seeing defenses really well right now,” Halzle said. “He’s doing a really good job with his eyes. Starts with your eyes and now you can get your feet in the right position. Now you can throw the ball accurately and on time. That’s what you have seen the last two weeks, but I would completely agree that him getting some carries, some runs and some contact early in the game is good for him.”
In Tennessee’s last two games, Milton is completing 74% of his passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns. Milton also hasn’t put the ball in harms way like he did in the Vols’ first three SEC games. The senior has been more decisive and more effective throwing in the intermediate— two issues that plagued him earlier in the season.
As the Vols approach a November with challenging matchups against Missouri and Georgia, they need Milton to keep improving to end the season the way they want.