No 'Little' concern

The name is Little but the problem is big.

Stopping Kentucky's Rafael Little will be Tennessee's ultimate challenge in Saturday's season finale at Lexington. Little is the Big Blue's chief threat as a runner, as a receiver and as a return specialist.

He's leading his team in rushing (averaging 100.2 rushing yards per game) and receiving (37.6 yards per game). He's leading the entire Southeastern Conference in punt-return average (17.3 yards). This combination of skills also has him leading the SEC and ranking No. 2 nationally in all-purpose yards (185.4 yards per game). Kentucky coach Rich Brooks calls Little a "huge part" of the Wildcat attack, and UT's head man isn't inclined to disagree.

"Much of what they do centers around their tailback," Phillip Fulmer says. "Rafael Little is a really, really great football player. They do a lot of things with him, and he's a guy that will certainly command a lot of our attention."

Tennessee's defensive coordinator concedes the point.

"Little's a really good player," John Chavis says. "He's very talented, really good with the ball in his hands. He's second nationally in all-purpose yardage. When you do that, it says something special about you."

Three weeks ago Little burned a strong Auburn defense for 124 rushing yards (on just 17 carries) and 122 receiving yards (on just six catches). He shredded Vanderbilt for 198 rushing yards and 86 receiving yards two weeks ago. He also recorded 100-yard rushing performances against Idaho State (104), South Carolina (120) and Mississippi State (114).

Because Little is Kentucky's principle offensive threat, the Wildcats take advantage of every opportunity to utilize his skills.

"They run the zone play, the toss, they throw it to him out of the backfield," Chavis says. "As many ways as you can imagine getting the ball in his hands, they do."

As good as Little is running and catching the ball from scrimmage, however, he's even more dangerous as a return specialist.

"In the kicking game, it goes back to Little," Fulmer said. "We'll have to do a great job in the area of coverages and kicking the ball where we want to try and keep him from making big plays in the kicking game. He's a very, very special guy with the ball in his hands. He has our attention."

Certainly, he has Chavis' attention.

"What Little has been able to do, both on offense and in special teams," the coordinator says, "has really shined for them the last three or four weeks in particular."


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