Tennessee didn’t come out on the right side of this year’s game against Alabama, but there was at least one positive that came out of the game. Finally, Joe Milton ran the football. It seems like such a small thing on the surface, but it’s been a point of frustration watching the Tennessee offense all year.
Think back to Hendon Hooker. He wasn’t run-first by any means, but he wasn’t scared to pull the ball down and take off. That element has been missing from this year’s team, but we finally saw some of it against the Crimson Tide.
Really from the very beginning, Milton was engaged in the rushing attack. He ended up with 15 carries total, with plenty of those being designed looks. Obviously, it was a clear departure from Tennessee’s approach during the rest of the year.
Heupel explained the new wrinkle on Monday.
“It can help the spacing, but again, you’re playing really good players,” Heupel told reporters. “Every scheme’s a little bit different, how you can attack them and trying to find an edge for your players. So that’s why things change from week to week a little bit.”
Wright, Small and Sampson combined for just 25 carries on the day. Milton threw it 41 times, which was easily a season high. It was easily his best outing of the year.
“I thought (Milton) continued to compete, continued to fight throughout the course of the ballgame,” Heupel said. “Really good decision-making for a majority of the football game. Was accurate with the football. I thought he made plays with his feet. Some of that was in the quarterback-run game – some designed, some not. Some of it was him scrambling around making some plays, so there was some positive signs.”
I always thought the Cam Newton comparisons were a little rich, just because of the level of athlete that Newton was at his peak. Milton just hasn’t ever seemed to have the mentality of a runner like Cam did, but we saw a little flash of it on Saturday.
Milton set the tone for the first half with a truck-stick moment to convert an early third down.
“Yeah, everybody’s – the end of their runs are a little bit different,” Heupel said. “Their ability to slide, their comfort, dive, get down. Situationally, too, the hidden yards in the game when needed. There’s times when he should probably get down, but again, I like the way that he ran the football.”
So here Tennessee sits at 5-2, more than likely with their championship hopes dashed. We know there’s not a lot of depth in the quarterback room, which might explain the lack of using Milton in the run game. Will that change moving forward? Will they turn Milton loose? There’s really no reason not to at this point.