Joe Milton sat down in front of the camera and adjusted his hair. He stayed quiet and stared.
“They didn’t do anything that we didn’t practice,” he said, answering the first question of an uncomfortable eight minutes. “I was thinking too much. I was too busy with my feet. It was all on me.”
There’s some truth there. Milton went 32-of-51 and threw for 300 yards on Saturday with zero touchdowns and zero interceptions. On paper, it’s about mediocre. Watching the game, it was a bit worse.
Milton looked uncomfortable in the pocket; he got sacked just once but struggled to get past his first read. More than once, he tried to force balls into windows that were too tight, seeming to predetermine where he was going before the snap and failing to adjust. And more than that, he was lucky to avoid throwing an interception. The accuracy issues we’ve heard about for a long time showed up, especially on downfield throws, and by the end of the game, Michigan was attempting to run a two-minute drill by checking the ball down.
The 27-24 loss to Michigan State wasn’t all Milton’s fault. He had nothing to do with the penalty yards Michigan’s defense racked up or with Michigan State receiver Ricky White’s 196 yards against an overmatched secondary. He didn’t make the decision to go to the wildcat near the goal-line when the offense was humming.
Still, after a strong performance against Minnesota, this will bring expectations for Michigan’s junior quarterback back down to earth. He wasn’t the reason they lost, but that doesn’t mean there was a shortage of issues.
“My take of it right now until I rewatch it, we would be in rhythm and we wouldn’t or we wouldn’t be in rhythm and then we’d get it,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Didn’t finish the drives and be in rhythm throughout the drive like we wanted to.”
At least some of the responsibility there falls on the quarterback’s shoulders, since he’s the one leading the offense on the field, and Milton should get credit for bearing that responsibility without hesitation.
What matters more now, though, is next week.
How Milton plays on the road, coming off a crushing loss against a challenging Indiana defense, could set the tone for the rest of this season.
The Wolverines opened as a favorite at Indiana, but the Hoosiers were ranked 10 spots higher in the AP Poll. That’s the first time Indiana has been ranked higher than Michigan coming into this game since 1988, per Matt Cohen of the Indiana Daily Student. And if the Wolverines want to get anything at all out of this season, it’s a must-win game.
For Milton, this is also about keeping his job next year, when five-star recruit J.J. McCarthy comes in and Cade McNamara enters his junior year. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
As for immediate ramifications, Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State are all still on the schedule. Indiana is perennially penciled in as an automatic win. But not this year. And a loss would put a .500 record — Michigan’s worst season since Brady Hoke was fired — on the table.
Milton took responsibility and pinpointed where he needs to improve minutes after Saturday’s game. He talked about being more comfortable in the pocket, staying poised, keeping his focus and being too busy with his feet. Asked about Michigan State linebacker Antjuan Simmons, who made 11 tackles and affected the game all day, he said, “Antuan Simmons, who’s that?” It pointed to another problem — a lack of preparation — even if Milton didn’t say it aloud.
That’s a laundry list of things to improve on. Whether he can do it in five days will be telling.
Sears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ethan_sears.
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