Michigan football: Wolverines QB Joe Milton just isn't there yet
There was wild fanfare. High expectations. A load of optimism.
Joe Milton was the next great QB at Michigan, or so it was thought and said by just about everyone who follows Wolverines football — including media member Joel Klatt, who had showered the 6-foot-5, 243-pound redshirt sophomore with copious amounts of praise prior to the beginning of the Big Ten season.
Just last week, while on The Herd with Colin Cowhered, Klatt propped Milton even more.
“(He) has a quick release and one of the strongest arms I’ve seen in college football in the last four or five years,” Klatt said. “It’s stronger than [former Wyoming quarterback] Josh Allen’s or even [former Oregon quarterback] Justin Herbert’s.”
During a discussion with former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, Klatt, of FOX Sports, said arm strength makes Milton an “it” type of athlete.
“Joe Milton is the X-factor at quarterback,” Klatt said. “He is really good. He’s got a huge arm. As good of an arm I’ve seen in college football in quite some time.”
Following a 49-24 road win over Minnesota, the hype grew a bit more — not only from media members, but also from Michigan fans. Milton was coming into his own. He absolutely had the talent to guide Michigan — which has been searching for a true star QB since coach Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in 2015 — to the Promised Land.
Big Ten championship? Beating Ohio State?
Handling in-state rival Michigan State?
All of those questions were pondered.
Saturday, Milton didn’t do much to instill much hope for the Wolverines, who lost a gut-wrenching, 27-24, penalty-filled mess-of-a-game against the 3-TD underdog Spartans in Ann Arbor.
Milton has an arm. He’s athletic as they come.
But he’s not yet ready to be the one — at least not through a pair of games this fall. Despite being in the program for three years, it’s painfully obvious that Milton needs more seasoning before he’s truly recognized as a QB to be feared.
Despite a respectable 32-for-51, 300-yard passing performance, Milton failed to throw a touchdown during the shocking 3-point loss to Michigan State. Despite having plenty of weapons available on offense, Milton failed to come through with the big plays necessary to sustain drives and produce points.
Michigan State, which is in the midst of rebuild under first-year coach Mel Tucker, was simply more prepared for its most important game of 2020. Despite tallying just 1 sack, the Spartans had Milton running around looking for answers for 4 quarters.
He found none.
The pressure seemingly was too much for the first-year starter to handle.
“I was thinking too much,” Milton said during a postgame Zoom conference call. “I was too busy with my feet.”
Milton couldn’t link-up with WR Ronnie Bell, one of the most dangerous offensive talents at his disposal. Bell was targeted 9 times but caught just 4 passes. Tight end Erick All was expected to be another asset for Michigan, which has cranked out considerable talent at the position since Harbaugh’s arrival.
All, who had an untimely drop against Minnesota during Week 1, only caught 3 of 8 intended passes from Milton.
Overthrown, too fast and simply off-target.
That was the story of Milton’s debut against the Spartans, who were facing a third straight defeat for the first time since 2002-2007.
It wasn’t all Milton’s fault, but he didn’t take control of an offense that was thought to be on the verge of a breakthrough — nothing explosive or jaw-dropping. No deep connections to Bell.
“You know, we’ve just got to play better. I’ve got to play better,” Milton said. “We’ve got to do what we need to do in practice. … It all comes from being prepared through the week. That’s the most (important) thing.”
During Week 1 against the Gophers, Milton appeared to be more comfortable, more in control and more within himself. The only way was up for Milton, who won the starting job over redshirt freshman Cade McNamara during the shortened camp season.
“I was a lot more poised last week,” Milton said. “I got more poised throughout this game (MSU), but I don’t know why my feet were busy. I think my mind was roaming everywhere. But that’s totally on me. Everybody did what they needed to do, so it’s just on me.”
Taking responsibility is a sign of maturity. Nobody is questioning Milton’s commitment to his team. Nobody is questioning his desire to win and perform well, either.
This isn’t a jab at Milton in any sense of the word.
It’s just a simple and clear observation. He needs more time before he can become the star of the show. Perhaps the loss to the Spartans will do that for Milton, who has a rocket arm but needs to improve the touch on passes. Perhaps it’ll serve as more motivation to ascend to the levels anticipated by the coaching staff and fanbase.
There is a stark difference between intent and results. Milton realizes that and vowed to make necessary improvements throughout the course of the season.
“This game didn’t turn out how it was supposed to,” Milton said candidly. “But it happens. Just have to go watch film and get better.”