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Tennessee QB Joe Milton operating at a “really high” level so “no” to Nico Iamaleava

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It’s truly too easy and a bit naive to say that Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III is the sole reason that the Vols’ offense has been unrecognizable from a year ago. However, he has to carry some of the blame, right?

Sure, the Vols don’t have the best receiver in the nation, Biletnikoff Award winner Jalin Hyatt, from last season and have had a change in offensive coordinators, from Alex Golesh to Joey Halzle, but Milton has to be somewhat liable, right?

Well not if you ask Tennessee’s coaches.

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“Joe was really good with his decision making and his calmness on the sidelines,” said Halzle, who replaced Golesh after he took the head coaching position at South Florida. “He kept the calm within the storm out there. Talking to him on the headset, after every single drive he was like, ‘Cool. Move on. What do we have coming next?’ 

“So the guy is really even keeled. His decision making is really good. Was accurate with the football. The guy played a good game. Was happy with that.”

A good game? Really. Maybe for a robot who gains his coaches’ approval for simply checking down to receivers closer to him than his own shoulder pads. Where is the deep ball that the Vols were known for? Those downfield shots aren’t available because defenses are testing Milton to beat them consistently underneath or run the ball. Milton hasn’t proven he can be consistent underneath this season and the Vols’ running game isn’t the same without center Cooper Mays, who is out for an undetermined time with an undisclosed injury.

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I guess it’s good to know that Milton can take a poor offensive performance in stride, that he didn’t suddenly need to be institutionalized when things got hairy in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. However, maybe Milton is too calm. Maybe he needs to get mad every once in awhile. Perhaps that would help the Vols when they need a conversion in a short-yardage situation or a touchdown in the red zone, both of which were problems in a 29-16 loss to Florida.

Freshman Nico Iamaleava has been described as a highly competitive player. He’s also been described as mature beyond his years and has more talent than Taylor Swift. Could he do better with his back against the wall as Milton’s was in the Swamp?

“No,” Halzle said during his press conference on Tuesday.

Why not? Halzle said it’s an operational dysfunction that is holding the Vols back and that Milton is actually operating at a “really high” level. Stats would beg to differ. Milton’s 144.27 quarterback rating is 12th best among the 13 SEC quarterbacks that have thrown enough passes to qualify to be ranked. For comparison’s sake, former Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker’s 175.51 ranking last season was first in the SEC. I guess that means Hooker was operating at really, really, really high level.

Milton completed 20-of-34 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the loss to the Gators. He also fumbled a ball he recovered and nearly allowed the play clock to run down before Tennessee coach Josh Heupel was forced to call a timeout. That’s high level stuff?

Let’s keep in mind that Milton is in his sixth season of college football and third in Tennessee coach Josh Heupel’s offense. He should be performing at a high level, but it sure doesn’t feel like that.

“He did some really good things the other night,” Heupel said. “The pick, we can’t just throw it up. He’d like to have that one back. And we gotta be better in protection too in that situation. The decision making, where he’s going with the football, I said it before the game, I’ll say after the game too, he was in the right spots. Accuracy, wide receivers being exact in their routes, all those things gotta continue to improve for us to be as efficient as we need to be.”

Wait. Those are two different things. Accuracy and receivers being in the right spot may be intertwined, but Heupel chose not to specify. So is Milton’s accuracy still an issue as it was last season and the season before that and at the school before that? Who cares. He’s still operating at a high level, I suppose.

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