Tennessee Quarterback Joe Milton III. Photo by Rocky Top Insider.
Through the ups and downs that might have come his way during his first two years on Rocky Top, veteran Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III had the chance to shine on the Orange Bowl stage in the final game of the Vols’ 2022 season.
Milton transferred to Tennessee in April of 2021, just a handful of months after head coach Josh Heupel was hired to lead the Volunteers’ program. The former Michigan quarterback was named the starter over Hendon Hooker for the first game of the Heupel era, but an injury during the second game would pave the way for Hooker to take over.
Just about 15 months later, after an ACL injury caused Hooker to be sidelined, Milton was once again back in the starting role. Milton threw for 147 yards in a rainy Vanderbilt game to close the regular season before a gigantic test in the Orange Bowl against No. 7 Clemson in Miami.
To add to the storyline, Tennessee had also finally welcomed former No. 1-overall recruit Nico Iamaleava onto campus as the Vols went through bowl practices leading up to Miami. But Milton shined despite the pressure. Milton looked cool, calm, and comfortable while throwing for 251 yards and three touchdowns against the Tigers in the national spotlight.
That game did a lot to solidify and show off the improvements Milton had made during the 15 months in between his starts for Tennessee. Milton had a good connection with his receivers, especially Squirrel White, and showed definitive improvements in his accuracy in the short-to-medium parts of the field.
Still, though, Tennessee is looking to unlock “another level” to Milton’s game for his final season on Rocky Top, according to Tennessee offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle last week.
“He absolutely has another level he can and should go to,” Halzle said to the media in Knoxville. “He’s older but that was really only his fourth start for us, I believe. He’s got a lot of ball left to play. He made a lot of really good decisions, he protected the football, he threw it aggressively when it was time to throw it aggressively. He’s doing that at a high level now, too. I’ve been really pleased with him, but he definitely has another level that he can reach.”
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In the three months or so since the Orange Bowl, Milton has had the chance to reflect on that game before starting up spring practice last week with his teammates.
“I don’t think I missed a throw that game but seeing things correctly,” Milton said about areas for improvement in the Orange Bowl. “There are certain reads in our playbook that as a quarterback you have to be able to understand and do. Throughout that game, some of those things I did not do. I feel like we could have had more points on the board if I would have done those things correctly. But, it’s not all about me, so we won and that’s all that matters.”
But ultimately, despite it being a very solid performance, Milton echoes the same sentiments as Halzle when it comes to his own game. Milton wants to continue to learn and grow during spring camp to be as ready as he can be to lead Tennessee during the season opener against Virginia later this fall.
“I’m way more comfortable, but I’m just the kind of person that wants to learn more,” Milton said to the Tennessee media last week. “There’s obviously something in one of the players that I probably don’t know, so I want to learn that. So I can be better and understand what’s going on.”
Players can wear different hats when it comes to spring football, and Joe Milton is certainly one of the players that are. In addition to gearing up himself for the season, Milton is also doing his best to pass as much knowledge as he can to Nico Iamaleava, Tennessee’s star incoming freshman.
“Joe has been great,” Iamaleava said after practice last week. “Like a big brother to me when I first came here. Really just rallying all the troops around us, getting everybody to buy into what he’s trying to build and what the team’s trying to build. Joe has been great for me and a great big brother to me.”
Tennessee will kick off the 2023 season on Saturday, Sept. 2 against the Virginia Cavaliers in Nashville’s Nissan Stadium.