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Tennessee strong-armed QB Joe Milton excels at throwing the football short thanks to Vols’ progressions

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Tennessee isn’t going to abandon deep passes in its offense anytime soon. However, the Vols may be a bit more short sighted in their approach this season.

The short and medium passes were a big part of what the Vols did in a 49-13 win over Virginia on Saturday. Why? First, quarterback Joe Milton III excels at those passes. That was evident in the Orange Bowl when the Vols hammered Clemson. However, there’s another reason why Tennessee’s coaches like to go short, especially early in a game.

“We’ve liked to, for years, use that to kind of get stuff going and get the tempo started with that one,” Tennessee offensive coordinator Joey Halzle said during the Vols’ press conference on Tuesday. 

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There was also another reason the Vols didn’t push the ball downfield against the Cavaliers as often as they might have last year before Tennessee’s offense became a known commodity.

“They were playing really soft,” Halzle said of the Cavs. “I mean, we threw about five balls over the top, didn’t hit all of them, hit some of them. (Milton) played really well and took what they gave him. He wasn’t just naturally trying to just say, ‘All right, I’m throwing this deep.’ 

“He didn’t have any of those type of plays. And when they were soft, he dropped it down, got outside, got to his second, third reads. First touchdown he threw was to his fourth read right there. So it was really great to see him operate like that.”

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That touchdown pass was a nine-yard completion to Dylan Sampson on fourth-and-five. It won’t be the last time the Vols use their running backs in the passing game because Milton has proven adept at going through his passing progressions, which often end up with a tailback underneath coverages, especially when they’re as soft as they were on Saturday.

“I think you’re seeing Joe get from one to two to three (receivers) really well and that’s why you’re seeing the backs get a bunch of catches out there,” Halzle said. “Because it’s not just one and ‘I’m out (of the pocket)’ or ‘One, two and I’m out.’ It’s get to that back, get to the third guy.”

That’s an incredibly positive sign for the Vols. Everyone knows Milton has the talent to excel. However, he may have the mental acumen to raise his game to a much higher level. Maybe sometime soon Milton will be asked about that rather than just his arm strength.

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