It’s apparent that Josh Heupel is someone who prefers to keep his cards close to the chest, at least that’s been the case so far in his early career as Tennessee’s head coach.
Coach Heupel affirmed this when asked about quarterback Joe Milton III in his weekly press conference with Knoxville media on Monday. Milton sat out last week’s game against Tennessee Tech with a lower body injury.
“I never speak in hypotheticals. He got a little bit of work in last week,” Heupel said. “We'll find out where he is on Tuesday or Wednesday and see where we are at that point as far as whether he'll be able to play or not."
Milton has put up mixed results in his short career on Rocky Top. The Michigan transfer recorded 3 touchdowns in his debut after being announced the starter against Bowling Green.
Pitt’s pass rush gave the shifty quarterback some problems in the pocket. Milton completed just 7 passes, but was knocked out of the game due to an apparent leg injury late in the second quarter.
As for the severity of this injury, it’s hard to tell. Hendon Hooker started over Milton the following week without much of an update from Heupel in the interim. While Hooker performed well in relief, Milton’s ceiling is hard to ignore, especially within an offense such as Tennessee’s
Above all, a quarterback has to be able to hit open receivers – regardless of the throw required.
Milton and the Tennessee offense have had trouble connecting on the deep ball in the early stages of the season. Milton overthrew several receivers before his injury against Pitt, including a couple to Cedric Tillman without a Panthers defender in the vicinity that would have likely scored.
“We’re missing opportunities to make plays,” Heupel said of the overthrows. “Pretty sure you guys have seen the chances we have missed in the vertical pass game.”
Hooker’s 4 touchdown performance on Saturday featured a lot of the explosiveness Heupel is looking for, though he admitted the number of turnovers have to be limited moving forward. Hooker turned the ball over twice against the Golden Eagles.
“I feel like I had a pretty good showing,” Hooker said postgame Saturday. “There’s some things I need to clean up. I’ve got to be a lot more cleaner in my intermediate game for sure, taking care of the ball.”
Milton is listed as the started on week four’s official depth chart. Despite being ruled inactive on gameday, Milton was also listed as the starter against the Golden Eagles in week three.
Milton wasn’t the only question mark on the depth chart this weekend. Heupel declined to go into specifics on updates for other players who went down with injuries against Tennessee Tech as well.
The status of Cedric Tillman, Cade Mays and Kingston Harris are unknown according to the staff. Each of these players left early against Tennessee Tech with injuries and did not return.
“Nothing is finalized on those guys,” Heupel said.