Vols notebook: Heupel on Milton’s 15 carries: ‘He’s got to be a part of it’

AP photo by Vasha Hunt / Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III readies to face off against Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner during Saturday's 34-20 win by the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.
AP photo by Vasha Hunt / Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III readies to face off against Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner during Saturday's 34-20 win by the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Tennessee sixth-year quarterback Joe Milton III rushed 15 times during Saturday's 34-20 loss at Alabama.

Should Volunteers fans start getting used to that?

"It was a part of our game, and we used him last week, too," Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. "He's got to be a part of it for us."

Milton rushed eight times for 34 yards in last weekend's 20-13 downing of Texas A&M but was nearly twice as busy inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, with his 15 carries netting 59 yards. That total is a bit misleading given that he had 14 rushes for 76 yards — an average of 5.43 — until suffering a 17-yard sack in the game's final minute.

In Tennessee's opening drive of the game that traveled 75 yards in eight plays, Milton set the tone with a 9-yard carry that the 6-foot-5, 235-pounder finished off by lowering his shoulder into Crimson Tide safety Malachi Moore.

"It's just me versus the next guy," Milton said. "Who's going to win? Who wants it more? That's how I look at it. You've got to be able to have the mindset to know that you can dominate at any time of the game. If I see a guy coming to tackle me, I'm running straight at him."

Said Heupel: "It's situational football. You don't want him to take every hit, but he is going to have to take some hits. On third downs, you've got to go get it. It changes the way a game is played, so it's a combination of that."

Tennessee entered Saturday with the Southeastern Conference's top rushing offense but was held roughly 100 yards below average, finishing with 38 carries for 133 yards. Junior running back Jaylen Wright, who has surpassed 100 yards four times this season, was held to 22 yards on 11 carries.

"They still hurt us at times with the quarterback runs," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "They had quarterback draws a couple of times and a couple of perimeter plays. He's a big guy. He's fast, and he's a very good athlete."

Ross is boss

Redshirt freshman punter Jackson Ross set Tennessee's single-game record for average with a minimum of five attempts, punting five times for 266 yards for a 53.2-yard clip.

The previous Vols record of 53.0 was established by Jimmy Colquitt at LSU in 1982, and he then matched his own mark at home against Auburn in 1983.

Ross had a career-long 71-yard punt in the fourth quarter, which was the longest for the Vols since Joe Doyle also had a 71-yarder against Georgia on Sept. 29, 2018.

Defense dented

Tennessee's defensive momentum from last week's home win over the Aggies was present in the first half Saturday before eroding. The Vols allowed a season high in points, though Alabama's final score came off a fumble return.

"At the end of the day, you've got to settle in and be better than what we were," Heupel said of the second-half downturn, "and that's me, the assistant coaches and the players. It's all of us."

Said sophomore linebacker Elijah Herring: "We just let go of that rope. We got comfortable and felt like we had won the game already."

Fourth-down woes

Alabama had fourth-down stops of Tennessee in each half, with Milton getting stuffed the first time and sophomore running back Dylan Sampson on the second occasion.

"I just felt like the scheme based on the personnel that they had out there that we had a good play," Heupel said of the first attempt. "We had a read off the edge and felt like it was condensed, and he didn't get it when he went around the edge."

When Milton was asked about getting stopped, he said: "It was man versus man. You've just got to get it."

Saban cited the second stop as a monstrous play in the game.

"They like to get in bunch (formation), so we have a check defense to go to," Saban said. "The guys up front just knocked them back."

Tide tidbits

Cornerback Terrion Arnold sustained a concussion and watched the second half in street clothes. ... Alabama committed a 5-yard penalty in the third quarter for its only flag of the game. ... Deontae Lawson had 12 tackles, while Jihaad Campbell added 10 and the game-sealing fumble recovery for a touchdown. ... Trezmen Marshall didn't join Lawson and Campbell in the linebacker fun, sitting out Saturday with bruised ribs. ... Tennessee saddled Alabama with a 20-7 halftime deficit, the largest for the Tide since falling behind quarterback Joe Burrow and LSU 33-13 in 2019.

Odds and ends

Tennessee is among just five teams to play in front of a sellout crowd each week this season, joining Colorado, Georgia, Iowa and Notre Dame. ... The Vols tallied four sacks, matching their average per game. ... Safety Tamarion McDonald became the first Tennessee player this season with double-digit tackles in a single game, amassing 10.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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