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It’s time for Tennessee and Joe Milton to take separate paths

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Tennessee isn’t going to win a championship with Joe Milton III as its starting quarterback. Coach Josh Heupel isn’t going to magically turn Milton into a top-flight college quarterback. It’s time to move on.

While it should be up to Milton to skip the Citrus Bowl, Heupel should provide a push if Milton needs it. No, Milton wouldn’t be getting benched, suspended or dismissed, especially if his decision not to participate in the Vols’ postseason was his to make. However, a nudge is in order. Milton could be making a smart business move, which would benefit the Vols. 

Unless you’ve been stuck in a time capsule for the past 10 years, you should know that skipping a bowl game isn’t perceived as poorly as it used to be. At first, it was considered practically unsportsmanlike – if not downright dastardly. How could you give up on your team? Well, it’s pretty easy to move on, as opposed to playing in a glorified exhibition game, when the NFL is a reality – and it is for Milton.

Milton is beloved by his teammates and it would be an incredibly bad look for Heupel to force Milton’s hand and ask him to skip the Citrus Bowl. That’s a horrible narrative for current and prospective Vols. However, Milton skipping the bowl game on his own accord is best for both parties and, essentially, there is nothing for either side to gain from moving forward together. While there’s always a chance Milton could shine against Iowa, he could also seriously hurt his draft stock if he struggles against the Hawkeyes, which is more likely than not.

Iowa has the fourth-best defense in the Big 10, allowing just 13 points per game. The Hawkeyes are also fourth in the Big 10 in rushing yards (102) and passing yards (172) allowed. Against a defense like that, Milton could play well and still look bad. Moreover, let’s face it. NFL scouts know what Milton is. There’s nothing he can do against Iowa that will change the perception of him, that he is a big, talented athlete with questionable passing skills. Therefore, Milton has nothing to gain, other than some kudos from his teammates, by playing in the Citrus Bowl. However, Milton will be well respected whether he plays in the Citrus Bowl or not. He’s already earned that.

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Does anyone really believe Milton can help his draft stock with one great game against Iowa? Milton’s best way to improve his draft stock is to work on his combine drills and wow scouts with his physical ability. Preparing for the combine is not like preparing for a football game. Running a 40-yard dash is far different than running from defenders. Considering the Vols don’t have much to play for other than a Citrus Bowl Trophy, why shouldn’t Milton start getting ready sooner rather than latter?

Milton is considered a great leader and has the respect of his teammates already, especially considering he has taken so much of the flack for some of the Vols’ missteps in 2023. Milton wasn’t the sole reason the Vols lost four games this season, but as the starting quarterback, he was an easy target.

Milton moving onto the NFL would also make the Citrus Bowl far more entertaining. I don’t need to tell you why. Imagine the hype that would be associated with the Citrus Bowl if freshman Nico Iamaleava were set to make his debut. Is that a lot to ask of a freshman, especially against a defense like Iowa’s? Certainly, but Iamaleava wasn’t a five-star prospect for his ability to play backup. There is, however, one potential downfall to this whole plan. What if Iamaleava struggles? That wouldn’t be a great sign to prospects considering the Vols. However, it would certainly give Tennessee’s coaches a better feel for Iamaleava in a real game. 

So far, Iamaleava has only played in mop-up duty during his Tennessee career. Is Iamaleava a “gamer” or a marvelous athlete in practice who struggles when the games really count? No one knows for sure. By all accounts, Iamaleava has lived up to the hype – as a second-string quarterback. However, we’ll never really know until Milton is gone.

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6 Responses

  1. Milton has definitely not been a good QB for TN this year. However the coaching CLOWNS are consistent in going along with TN standards which is always staying with a loser. If the #1 is not producing , a good coach would put some one else in. TN does not have smart coaches!!!

  2. I personally think Nico should play maybe not start but come in maybe the second half. It’s his time and he must realize that. This a bowl game and I believe Vol fans would appreciate Nico playing even if it meant losing a mean less game.

  3. I wasted 10 minutes reading this article, of course Milton should be able to make his own decision without the help from Heupel trying to say him one way or another. I think every player in that locker room would definitely feel some type of way. So for that reason alone not worth hurting the locker room culture that coach has built. Plus it’s likely to be a physical game so it’s not worth risking injury in this game this one game is not gonna make it break next year’s quarterback unless it’s an injury!

  4. They need to get rid of Milton he’s not much of a player he doesn’t take football seriously .He needs to go!!!! And he doesn’t need to play in the citrus bowl.

  5. I agree, if Milton is offered a contract with the NFL he needs to grab it because if he breaks any bones there he will get paid. If he breaks anything during a college playoff game he ends up on somebody’s couch because all he will be able to get from tn is his degree, a thank you and maybe his hospital bill paid.

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