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A bitter loss and a bright future for Joe Milton

We’re still in the beginning stages of the Joe Milton era.

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

After winning against Minnesota in Week 1, Michigan quarterback Joe Milton noted that he wasn’t playing scared during the 49-24 victory, the first start of his career. Head coach Jim Harbaugh called Milton “cool as a cucumber”.

A week later, things were different for Milton. He made some stellar plays, but he didn’t look as comfortable from the pocket or running with the football as he did against the Golden Gophers. Versus Michigan State, Milton showed flashes of ‘wow’ and instances where it’s clear he needs more time on task. No excuses from Milton, though, he put the loss squarely on his shoulders. “I was a lot more poised last week. I got a lot more poised throughout this game. But I don’t know why my feet were busy,” Milton said. “I think my mind was just roaming everywhere. But that’s totally on me. Everybody did what they needed to do. So, it’s just on me.”

That’s the exact response a team wants to hear out of their starting quarterback. He took ownership of what he did wrong, then went beyond that and said “it’s just on me.”

The fact is the loss isn’t on Milton, who went 32-of-51 for 300 yards along with 59 rushing yards. It was a team loss. “Just get in there and watch film and do our assignments like we’re supposed to. This game didn’t turn out how it was supposed to. But it happens. It’s life. Let’s go watch film, let’s get better,” Milton said, trying to remain positive.

Milton has already made a handful of plays this season that point to the high ceiling he has, that the hype this off-season was warranted. One loss against Michigan State doesn’t change Milton’s overall trajectory. It was a disappointing day, but this is still Michigan’s quarterback of the future. Michigan still has things to accomplish this season, and they can’t just sit at home sulking because they lost to a team they should have beat. Unfortunately for Milton and the Wolverines, the loss should and does put a bitter taste in their mouth. It’s up to them to decide what kind of team they are from here. “I think I’ll respond well. But it’s not all about me, it’s about the team. I think we’re going to do well further on in life and throughout the season. But it all comes with watching film, knowing your assignment and making up for the plays you did,” Milton said.

Through two weeks, Milton has showed top tier arm strength, pinpoint accuracy, good escapability as a runner, and a calm demeanor. He’s also thrown into double coverage, thrown too soon, had inaccurate throws deep and short, dancing feet in the pocket leading to holding onto the ball too long. Even with some of the bad habits Milton needs to fix, the upside is evident.

“He made a lot of plays, made a lot of incredible plays,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Early in the game, I felt like he was tucking, bringing the ball down too much and trying to run the ball in the first quarter too much. I felt like settled down and hung in the pocket pretty well after that, stood in there and made some big-time throws. Threw the ball, no turnovers. There were some exceptional throws, and as I said earlier, my take of it before I rewatch it is that we would be in rhythm and then we wouldn’t be in rhythm, and it just didn’t finish the drives and be in rhythm throughout the drive like we wanted to.”

There’s enough film accumulated for Milton to know what he has to work on and what makes him thrive as a quarterback. With a little help from his receiving targets, offensive line, and running game, the Michigan offense can get in a better rhythm in weeks to come. To put it simply, Milton looks like a quarterback that can get stuff done. He just needs more time, a commodity that is hard to come by in college football, especially during an eight game season where there’s virtually no margin for error.

Milton will look to bounce back against Indiana next Saturday.