What Michigan quarterback Joe Milton showed in his first start on Saturday against Minnesota was that the moment was not too big for him. Even though the clock read primetime with a 7:40 kickoff and the opponent was a ranked squad on the road, Milton looked prepared to lead the Wolverines to what became a 49-24 victory.
Maybe Milton was so sufficiently prepped due to the delayed start to the 2020 season. With extra time to install offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ offense, Milton has had an ample opportunity to get a handle for U-M’s system.
And Milton did not waste any time doing so either. When most players went back home as the pandemic struck in April, Milton and 2019’s leading receiver, Ronnie Bell, went to the practice fields. Since the two would be looked upon as leaders this season, the dynamic duo began to build chemistry, and the product of that commitment was evident In Michigan’s first game.
Milton finished with 225 passing yards and 52 yards on the ground along with two total touchdowns and never looked out of sync. While Milton is deserving of much of the credit for his stellar debut, Michigan quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels has worked closely with U-M’s signal caller to reach this point.
In his eyes, Milton did many things well on Saturday.
“The accuracy of those throws to maximize the yards after the catch, and I don’t think there was any questions, that was one of the best things that he did to allow our guys, our skill players, to run with the ball after it,” McDaniels said. “I thought we maximized yards because of it.”
As McDaniels said, Michigan put the ball in the hands of its playmakers from the very start. For the offense’s first play, Blake Corum took a swing pass for a 24-yard first down. These are the types of plays that Milton made look routine, and they stood out among a game filled with impactful moments.
But although Milton received exceedingly passing grades by the Wolverine Digest staff this week, it would be unfair to present the performance as a completely unblemished outing. Milton did have seven incompletions and a near-interception on an ill-advised throw over the middle, so there is still work to be done.
“I think there was some snaps in the passing game I know he’d like to see a little bit better than how he executed it,” McDaniels said. “That’s gonna be a continuous challenge every week of making sure that we [have] our eyes start in the right place, we see what we need to see from a pre-snap standpoint and then recognize things from a post-snap standpoint. And then the ball goes where it needs to go. That’s every quarterback and — definitely a guy as young as Joe making his first start, that will be a process for him in the passing game.
“There’s some things in the running game he knows I’d like to see different,” McDaniels said. “We were lazier than I would like him to look and be in the running game. And he knows that. And we’re working on it this week.”
Overall, Milton’s performance is about as sound as one could have hoped for. The strong-armed passer proved that he’s more than just a rocket arm on the field. He is nimble enough to run for first downs, and he’s savvy enough to read a defense before making the right play.
The latter is perhaps the most important aspect of Milton’s development yet, and it’s one that will be relied upon all year long as the unquestioned leader of U-M’s offense after one game.
What do you think of how Joe Milton performed on Saturday? What would you work to improve on at practice this week? Let us know!