Fletcher's a smaller Foster

Upon learning that standout Southern Miss tailback Damion Fletcher is a 5-10, 175-pounder, you naturally assume he's a speedster with a darting style of running. He's not.

Instead, Damion Fletcher – who will test Tennessee's defense tonight at 7 in Neyland Stadium – is more of a glider with a knack for finding cracks and knifing through them. Think Arian Foster as a 16-year-old.

"He's not quite as big, but he is the same kind of runner as Arian Foster," Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer said, referring to UT's 6-1, 225-pound junior tailback. "He (Fletcher) is able to break tackles and make people miss and find creases and bounce plays. He's a real challenge for our defense, especially coming off an effort where we didn't tackle very well."

Didn't tackle very well? That's putting it mildly. The Vols missed 22 tackles that gave Cal 150 extra yards in last weekend's 45-31 loss.

Noting that Fletcher rushed for 1,388 yards last fall en route to Freshman All-America honors, Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis surmised: "Given our situation playing the running game right now, that's a big challenge for us."

No doubt. The consensus is that Tennessee's front four was whipped last Saturday night. The balloting wasn't unanimous, though, because Chavis cast a dissenting vote.

"I don't think we got whipped upfront," he said in answer to a direct question. "We didn't play well. We didn't tackle well."

Although Cal quarterback Nate Longshore completed 19 of 28 passes and averaged a healthy 12.7 yards per completion, Chavis also defended his secondary's performance in Game 1.

"One thing I am delighted with is that we didn't allow big plays by air," he said. "I don't like getting the ball run on us but I thought the secondary played extremely well with the exception of missing some tackles that cost us. But that was (the case) throughout the entire football team. Those are things I'm responsible for ... things we'll get fixed."

In addition to a productive tailback, Southern Miss has a mobile quarterback. Jeremy Young rushed for 55 yards on eight carries in a 35-13 Game 1 defeat of UT-Martin. He passed for another 115 yards.

"The quarterback is impressive. He's a good player, a good athlete," Fulmer said, adding that 6-5, 240-pound tight end Shawn Nelson "could start in the Southeastern Conference."

Chavis also is impressed with Young's athleticism.

"They've got a talented quarterback that's very mobile," the coordinator noted. "He gets the ball on the edge, he can run well and he's got an adequate arm."

Fortunately for Tennessee, Young does his running on scrambles and quarterback keepers. The Golden Eagles do not rely on the triple-option, an offense that historically gives UT trouble.

"They've got it in the game plan," Chavis said, "but it's not something they feature."

Tonight's game has an air of uncertainty about it. The Tennessee defense has got to be better than it showed in its opener. However, the Southern Miss offense may be a lot better than it showed in its opener.

"They were very, very vanilla in their first game," Chavis said.

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