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Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Tennessee backup quarterback Joe Milton throws the ball over Georgia defensive lineman Tramel Walthour during the waning stages of last Saturday's 41-17 loss to the Bulldogs.

Neyland Stadium had mostly emptied by the time Joe Milton replaced Hendon Hooker as Tennessee's quarterback last Saturday midway through the fourth quarter.

Georgia was leading the Volunteers 41-10, but Milton entered and quickly produced his most beautiful deep ball of the season, a 53-yard strike to Cedric Tillman to the 27-yard line of the Bulldogs. Milton and Tillman would connect again moments later for a 12-yard touchdown with 3:38 remaining that accounted for the 41-17 final.

Milton, the 6-foot-5, 244-pound graduate transfer from Michigan, wound up 6-of-10 passing for 88 yards in the relief role, which marked his first appearance since the Oct. 16 home loss to Ole Miss.

"It was definitely a great thing," Vols fifth-year senior tight end Princeton Fant said. "Joe is a great quarterback, and he's going to continue to work hard every day and bring his game every day. I've got a lot of respect for him."

Milton committed to Tennessee in late April after the Orange & White spring game, which contained a quarterback competition involving Hooker, Harrison Bailey and Brian Maurer. Milton would overtake all three of those challengers in preseason camp and started the Sept. 2 opener against Bowling Green, completing 11 of 23 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 44 yards and two scores.

Not since Alan Cockrell in a 1981 rout of Colorado State had a Tennessee quarterback collected two rushing touchdowns in his first career start.

Milton suffered a leg injury during his second start against Pittsburgh and never reclaimed the starting role from Hooker, who currently ranks sixth nationally in pass efficiency. He made two relief appearances when Hooker got hurt, but those resulted in a 2-for-8 showing during the 38-14 humbling at Florida and a final play against Ole Miss in which he ran for 13 yards instead of throwing into the end zone in that 31-26 loss.

The lack of touch on deep balls plagued Milton in his brief time as the starter, so his 53-yard pass to Tillman last week was a welcome sight for the Vols, even if the outcome had long been decided. Milton has completed 27 of 55 passes (49.1%) overall this season for 343 yards and two touchdowns, and he has rushed 25 times for 141 yards (5.6 per carry) and two scores.

"I think your success in game action is the result of the preparation and the practice habits, and Joe has continued to grow in a lot of those ways," Tennessee first-year coach Josh Heupel said. "He needs to continue to push and compete in those areas for him to be his best, but it was good to see him have success the other day."

 

Evans update

Tennessee's leading rusher with the South Alabama and Vanderbilt games remaining is Tiyon Evans, the junior-college transfer who has amassed 525 yards on 81 carries for 6.5 yards a rush and six touchdowns. Evans hasn't played since the second quarter of the Nov. 6 win at Kentucky due to an ankle injury, and Heupel did not provide any health updates during Wednesday's Southeastern Conference teleconference.

When asked if Evans could be looking at a season-ending situation, Heupel said, "I don't believe that's the case."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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