I like Joe Milton. I think he’s a great talent, a wonderful teammate, an unselfish player.
I also think he’s a terrific young man.
But after watching him in various settings over the past two-plus years, I don’t think Milton’s skill set is suited to provide Tennessee with optimal efficiency on offense.
Tennessee can score points with Milton, but it won’t average 46 points per game and over 500 total yards like it did with Hendon Hooker.
Hooker was the perfect fit for Josh Heupel’s offense.
Milton is not.
I say that because I think there are three ingredients that are a must if you want to make Heupel’s offense dynamic.
Hooker had them. Milton does not.
First, you have to be able to make quick decisions in the run game and passing game. Running an up-tempo offense requires a quarterback to swiftly read the defense and promptly process the run-pass option game. You throw the ball, hand it to a back or keep the ball on a zone-read play.
Milton doesn’t appear to react as quickly at reading defenses. Perhaps that’s why UT had to call two timeouts on its first series of the second half against Florida.
Secondly, Milton is not particularly adept at the zone-read option because he is not a real effective runner, like Hooker. Hooker could get you 7 yards on third-and-5. I haven’t seen that out of Milton.
That’s one reason you’re seeing more punts this year from UT’s offense than you did a year ago – because they don’t convert as effectively on third downs.
Thirdly, Milton is not an accurate passer on the run. It’s been reported he has never thrown a touchdown pass without being in the pocket in his five-year college career. That is stunning.
UT’s offense at times requires a quarterback to roll out left or right and run or throw. When Milton was on the run against Florida, his passes were off target.
Thus, UT doesn’t ask Milton to throw much on the run, but when he’s flushed out of the pocket, he needs to make a play in the passing game. He seldom does that.
This doesn’t mean Tennessee should bench Milton now in favor of Nico Iamaleava, the five-star freshmen recruit who appears to have a world of potential.
But if Milton struggles against Texas San Antonio this Saturday like he did at Florida and against Austin Peay (where he started the game 1-of-8 passing) then it may be time to pass to baton before the South Carolina game Sept. 30.
That is, of course, if the UT coaching staff feels Iamaleava is ready.
If Iamaleava has shown command of the offense, the ability to read defenses, an accurate arm and decent running ability, then I don’t think Tennessee will hesitate to make a quarterback change – if Milton continues to struggle.
If Iamaleava isn’t ready, then the leash for Milton will be longer.
As I’ve watched Tennessee’s first three games, it appears the coaching staff doesn’t totally trust Milton in certain situations.
That can affect play calling.
It can also affect the efficiency of your offense.
With Hooker, I think UT felt confident calling just about any play in the playbook.
I’m not sure that feeling exists with Milton.
Nonetheless, Milton’s skill set – a pocket passer with a rocket arm who’s an average runner at best – doesn’t seem to be the perfect fit for Heupel’s offense.
That doesn’t mean Tennessee can’t win quite a few games with Milton. But it does mean the ceiling is a bit lower than I thought at the beginning of the season.