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Tennessee QB Joe Milton is the center of Vols’ offensive woes

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Tennessee lost 29-16 to Florida on Saturday and it’s fair to question how much quarterback Joe Milton is to blame.

Either the Vols decided to forgo the No. 1 offense in the nation that they displayed last season or Milton simply can’t consistently produce downfield completions that keeps the defense on its heels. 

Remember the Vols last year? With former UT quarterback Hendon Hooker at the helm, Tennessee averaged 10 yards per pass attempt. That was second in the nation. Now, the Vols have been forced to throw the ball underneath most often and that hasn’t gone well. 

Milton has struggled to complete routine, short passes to open receivers this season. Sure, some were dropped, but some would have been incredibly difficult catches considering they were slightly off target and Milton struggles to not throw a fastball every time he takes the mound. Milton completed 20 of 34 passes for 287 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. The Vols entered the Florida game with the tenth best passing offense in the SEC. Milton’s day in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium won’t do much to help that ranking.

So the Vols have struggled to complete short-to-intermediate passes to move the chains, which means their opponents will gladly sit back deep in coverage and let whatever passing game Tennessee can muster unfold in front of them. That’s not how Heupel wants to run his offense, so what has changed?

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The answer is obvious. The Vols have Milton in the starting lineup instead of Hooker. Either Milton doesn’t have the ability to run Heupel’s offense as its designed or the Vols’ head coach inexplicably just decided to change his previously successful offense during the offseason.

There are other offensive issues that are easily attributable to Milton. There was an interception in which Milton stepped into pressure, a fumble in which he bumped into his running back and more miscommunication among the Vols’ offensive line than Milton has incomplete passes this season. Certainly, missing All-SEC center Cooper Mays has been an issue as he was still sidelined on Saturday with an undisclosed illness. However, allowing the play clock to expire amongst other pre-snap issues isn’t a great sign that Milton has control of Tennessee’s offense.

The next step is logical, right? It’s time for the Vols to insert freshman Nico Iamaleava, the highly touted, former prospect from California who has wowed his teammates with his ability and maturity since arriving on campus in December. However, Iamaleava is still seemingly a bit slim for big-time college football and Heupel hasn’t even hinted that Iamaleava is ready to play. 

According to a source within Tennessee’s football program, Iamaleava has been receiving 50-percent of the practice snaps and is seemingly ready play. However, there has been no indication amongst UT’s team that Heupel would make a quarterback change unless Milton isn’t available, per the source.

Tennessee — against Florida. It would be unfair to blame just one player. However, Milton is the starting quarterback and it may be unfair to ask him to run Heupel’s offense if the ability just isn’t there.

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