With the early signing period underway, Tennessee football fans have joined the rest of the nation in filling up with excitement over so many newcomers. Transfers, commitments and enrollees all generate headlines.
Obviously, for the Vols, five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava is the headliner of the class, and he’s already on campus. However, let’s not forget that there are players already within the program be excited about.
Among those is the guy who, at least as of right now, is still the starter for Tennessee football at quarterback, Hendon Hooker’s replacement. Joe Milton III will start the Orange Bowl against the Clemson Tigers. Cooper Mays talked about his excitement for Milton.
“Any guy that waits their turn and has a great attitude about it deserves to have a great game and a great time,” he said. “Super excited to show people the growth and development that he’s had, and really excited to serve him as a lineman.”
There are legitimate concerns about Milton that have been on display since he first was the starter in September of 2021. He is only completing 56.9 percent of his passes since joining the Vols.
However, he has thrown for 1,095 yards and is averaging nearly nine and a half yards an attempt. He also has nine touchdowns and no interceptions in his career.
Now, it’s true that Milton’s numbers are a bit skewed because of all the work he did in mop-up duty. However, he did lead the Vols to a 56-0 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores. Mays said the goal in the Orange Bowl is to make him have as easy of a time as possible.
“At the end of the day it’s a game,” he said. “There’s a lot riding on it, but at the end of the day, it’s something we’ve been doing our whole lives, so there’s nothing to do but to go out there and just play the way that we’ve been practicing and doing everything that we can to win.”
Although it is more in mop-up duty, Milton is completing 63 percent of his passes this year. He has 720 yards and is averaging an insane 13.3 yards per attempt along with seven passing touchdowns.
It’s worth noting that Milton can be a major threat as a runner too given his size at 6’5″ 245 pounds. He has 201 yards on 35 carries, averaging just under six yards a carry, with two touchdowns.
This year, Milton has seven carries for 72 yards. Now, he didn’t run against Vanderbilt and only completed 11-of-21 passes, but it was raining in that game. Milton’s full skills weren’t on display, and with the coaches not targeting a transfer, Mays noted everybody seems behind him.
“I’m extremely confident in Joe, and you all know how I feel about him, so I’m thinking the coaching staff feels the same way,” he said.
If Milton remains the starter going into next year, Mays will be blocking for him, as he is coming back. Mays is effectively the leader of the line, and that’ll play a huge role in the performance of any quarterback.