Vols notebook: Milton says first interception with UT ‘totally on me’

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee sixth-year senior quarterback Joe Milton amassed 287 passing yards and 6 rushing yards in Saturday night's 29-16 loss at Florida, but he threw his first interception in three seasons with the Volunteers.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Joe Milton III threw his first 216 passes for Tennessee without being intercepted.

His 217th attempt was picked off Saturday night by Florida cornerback Devin Moore, who had a 39-yard return to set up a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Graham Mertz that put the Gators up 19-7 in the second quarter on their way to the 29-16 surprise dumping inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Milton was hit as he threw by massive Florida nose tackle Desmond Watson, with the 6-foot-5, 435-pounder causing an attempt that looked more like a punt that settled into Moore's arms.

"It happened, man," Milton said. "It happened, and I can't go back and changed what happened. I'm going to have to learn from it, because it was totally on me."

When asked about getting hit as he was throwing, Milton said, "That's part of the game. That happens."

(READ MORE: 'Extremely disappointing' Vols unravel for 10th consecutive loss in the Swamp)

Milton's streak of 216 passes without an interception is the second-longest in Tennessee history behind the 261 that predecessor Hendon Hooker amassed from the 2021 Georgia game to last season's Alabama contest. The sixth-year senior's stretch is also the ninth-longest run in Southeastern Conference history.

Dating back to his time at Michigan in the 2020 season, Milton had gone 248 passes without an interception before Moore's snag.

Adding to his total

Tennessee senior linebacker Aaron Beasley entered this weekend leading the nation with six tackles for loss and quickly picked up his seventh, stuffing Florida running back Trevor Etienne on the Gators' opening possession for a 5-yard loss. Beasley's hit forced a third-and-12 situation for the Gators on Tennessee's 28-yard line that they failed to convert, and they followed by missing a 46-yard field-goal attempt.

Beasley wound up leading the Vols with eight tackles, but Tennessee surrendered 183 rushing yards on 43 carries, including 172 yards on 23 rushes by Etienne.

"They were just running their offense, honestly," Beasley said. "On our end, I feel like there were just a lot of mistakes, and we really weren't playing sound football in my opinion. It was just undisciplined on our part."

  photo  AP photo by John Raoux / Florida running back Trevor Etienne is stopped by Tennessee linebacker Aaron Beasley, left, and defensive back Tamarion McDonald, right, after picking up a first down during the first half on Saturday night.

Still no Mays

Vols coach Josh Heupel said Thursday that Cooper Mays had been "really good all week long" and that he anticipated the senior center being ready to compete, but the 6-3, 305-pounder from Knoxville missed his third straight game.

Mays warmed up with the Vols, but sixth-year senior Ollie Lane went the distance instead.

"He just wasn't available tonight," Heupel said. "We didn't feel like he was in a position to play his best football."

When asked about the line in his absence, Heupel said: "At the end of the day, you line up with the guys that you've got. There are no asterisks at the bottom of a win or a loss as far as who was available and who wasn't. We're good enough to play better than we did tonight."

(READ MORE: Hargis: Vols' third-down issues lead to another frustrating defeat)

Odds and ends

Inactive for the Vols were nose tackle Elijah Simmons, linebacker Keenan Pili and defensive backs Will Brooks and Christian Charles. ... Senior nose tackle Omari Thomas was credited for blocking a Florida field goal and extra-point attempt in the first half, but Thomas was flagged for targeting in the final seconds and will miss the first half of next Saturday's home game against the University of Texas at San Antonio. ... Sixth-year senior kicker and Indiana transfer Charles Campbell improved to 4-for-4 this season on field-goal attempts with a 42-yarder at the 9:31 mark of the third quarter that pulled the Vols within 26-10.

Contact David Paschall at [email protected].