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Josh Heupel Talks Joe Milton’s Role During the Citrus Bowl

Joe MIlton Nico Iamaleava Citrus Bowl
Tennessee QB Nico Iamaleava (left) and QB Joe Milton III (right) during Tennessee fall camp practice in August. Photo via Rocky Top Insider.

Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton is certainly familiar with stepping up for a new opportunity during a bowl game… The veteran quarterback did so last year during the Vols’ win over Clemson in the 2022 Capital One Orange Bowl.

Milton, though, will be on the other side of things for this Monday’s Citrus Bowl matchup against the No. 17 Iowa Hawkeyes. Milton handed the reigns over to freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava this week as he continues his prep for the 2024 NFL Draft but will still be on the sideline for the game in Orlando.

While Milton won’t actually suit up for Tennessee on Monday, his presence will still be extremely important for Iamaleava – just like Hendon Hooker’s presence was for Milton during the Orange Bowl last season.

Iamaleava only has 26 passing attempts on the season so far but will certainly add on to that during the bowl game in less than two days. The freshman quarterback will rely on his coaches and teammates throughout the contest as he receives feedback on the sideline.

“He (Milton) has been a huge impact on our program for game day on Monday,” Heupel said of Joe Milton on Sunday. “Be another voice to help Nico as he comes off the sidelines, things that are going on. Being able to help him get ready for the next set and also create positive energy. Besides being the quarterback on the field, throwing the football, making decisions, every other part of his roles that he has had during the course of the year he can still have on the sideline.”

More from RTI: Tennessee Football Preview: Vols Battle Stout Iowa Defense in Citrus Bowl Match-Up

Milton’s role sounds like equal parts pre-drive preparation and post-drive analysis for the young quarterback Iamaleava against a stout Iowa defense.

The Hawkeyes’ defense ranks Top 5 in the nation and will provide Iamaleava with a big challenge in his first career start for the Volunteers.

“You can watch the film. They’re dialed in, they make you earn it,” Heupel said about the Iowa defense this week. “They don’t give up a bunch of big plays. That’s in the pass game and in the run game. They’re really good on third downs getting off the football field. They’ve created zero in negatives. They adjust during the course of the ball game extremely well to the things that they’re seeing.”

While Milton won’t be playing in the game, Heupel couldn’t help but rave about his work ethic and professionalism throughout the season and during the bowl season.

“Joe has done it the right way during the course of his career,” Heupel said on Sunday. “You look at how everything has unfolded, he is a guy that chose to stay. Believed in his teammates what we were building, and how his coaching, staff and players around him were going to help him grow as a player. Did a lot of really great things during the course of the season.”

Quarterback Nico Iamaleava and the No. 21 Volunteers will take on the No. 17 Iowa Hawkeyes in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl at 1:00 p.m. ET on New Year’s Day from Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.

Stay tuned to Rocky Top Insider for complete coverage of the Citrus Bowl from the Sunshine State.

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