Film breakdown: Joe Milton shows his growth in first career start

For years, Joe Milton has operated behind the scenes, preparing for his moment in the spotlight. So for two years, he only entered the public eye through scattered press conference refrains, insisting he had begun to match his prodigious physical talent with an improved grasp of the mental side of football. 

Saturday night in Minnesota, he finally got the opportunity to show how far he’s come, leading Michigan to a 49-24 win over the Golden Gophers. Milton finished the game with 277 total yards and two touchdowns, all while avoiding turnovers.

On Milton’s second drive of the game, he flashed one of his developments most discussed by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh — the ability to put touch on his throws when needed.

Minnesota’s defense on this play is a textbook example of what not to do on third-and-medium. The Gophers drop two safeties deep to protect against the deep ball, vacating the middle of the field while only rushing three, giving Milton plenty of time in the pocket.

To this point in the game, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis had schemed up a slew of single-read quick passes to get Milton into a rhythm. On this play, Milton does excellently to identify Minnesota’s flawed defense for himself and take advantage, finding freshman receiver Roman Wilson on a post route out of the slot. Wilson has a 15-yard gap between the Gophers linebackers and safeties, but Milton does well to drop a weighted touch pass over the linebackers into the empty space, rather than firing one of his trademark bullet passes.

“My touch tonight was pretty outstanding,” Milton said after the game. “I was pretty impressed with myself. I’ve been working on that a long time.”

Milton, though, still showed the arm strength that makes him such a coveted talent.

Michigan lines up in 12 personnel on this play, dropping both tight ends and freshman running back Zach Charbonnet into pass protection against Minnesota’s six-man rush. That leaves the Wolverines with just two pass catchers against the Gophers’ five defensive backs, forcing Milton to make a special throw. 

And he does just that, finding sophomore receiver Mike Sainristil for a first down. Sainristil runs a 15-yard out route just beyond the first-down marker on the play. It’s a common route in the NFL, but rare in college because few quarterbacks can make the throw. Milton can, zipping a dart into a tight window and kickstarting a touchdown drive.

Far more important than Milton showcasing his arm talent, though, was his ability to consistently make the correct reads. Only three of his 15 completions on Saturday traveled more than 10 yards. And yet, he managed 225 passing yards, mostly on plays like this pass to sophomore tight end Erick All.

Michigan once again sets up for this play in 12 personnel, with both tight ends lined up to the right side of the formation. It’s a near identical play to the Wolverines’ third touchdown of the game, with the offensive line selling a