The Tennessee Vols walked out of Neyland Stadium with a 38-6 win against Bowling Green on Thursday night to open the 2021 season.
Winning by 32 points is obviously a good sign for the program, but there are certainly some big concerns for Tennessee moving forward.
The quarterback play, specifically, has to be better.
Joe Milton, who transferred to Tennessee from Michigan this offseason, started the game for the Volunteers. And while he flashed some great things, his consistency left a lot to be desired.
Milton has tremendous physical attributes. And he effectively ran the Vols’ up-tempo offense against Bowling Green. But he only completed 11-of-23 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown (he also rushed for 44 yards and two touchdowns). Milton didn’t show great touch on his deep throws, and he missed several open receivers. I don’t think it’s time to panic, but there’s clearly some room for improvement.
Fortunately for the Vols, the program has a head coach in Josh Heupel that specializes in quarterbacks. And Heupel isn’t treating Milton with kid gloves. He was very direct after the game in his assessment of Milton’s play.
“I thought the pass game was really hit and miss from us tonight,” said Heupel after the game. “Some of that was quarterback decision-making and being accurate with the football.”
“We are going to have to be a lot more efficient in the pass game than we were tonight,” added Heupel.
Heupel noted that Milton missed some open receivers in the middle of the field.
“There were a couple of times that I didn’t like his decision-making,” explained Heupel. “There were some things that were open; a couple of guys running open down the middle of the football field that he didn’t recognize or see. There are some things that he has to clean up.”
One of the biggest criticisms of former UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt was that he didn’t hold quarterback Jarrett Guarantano accountable for the Vols’ poor offensive play the last few years.
That’s definitely not going to be the case with Heupel and his quarterbacks.
Heupel showed after the Bowling Green game that he’s direct, honest, and candid when discussing Tennessee’s offense. He didn’t try to sugarcoat things. And he didn’t try to protect Milton from criticism (nor did he slam Milton).
The good thing here is that Heupel has a lot of experience working with quarterbacks. I don’t know for sure that he’ll be able to fix Milton’s issues, but Heupel is one of the best options in the country when it comes to a head coach/quarterback coach combo.
If Milton can’t become more consistent, then it wouldn’t be shocking to see Heupel turn to one of his other options — Hendon Hooker (who is operating as the No. 2 quarterback) or Harrison Bailey.
Heupel made it clear that he’s confident in both of those players.
“We believe in Joe. We believe in the other two guys too…Strength in a position can never be one guy, they’re all going to have to compete and get better. Joe will need to continue to get better too.”
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports