Dynamic Dexter

First-year Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin never faced Florida's Percy Harvin but he'll be trying to shut down a miniature version of Harvin this Saturday in Oxford.

At 5-9 and 170 pounds, Ole Miss superstar Dexter McCluster is a tad smaller than the 5-11, 190-pound Harvin but very similar in terms of explosiveness and versatility. In fact, McCluster and Harvin were the only SEC players to rank among the league's top 10 in receptions, receiving yards, rushing yards and all-purpose yards a year ago.

Harvin is now working his magic for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings but McCluster will be showcasing his tricks this weekend at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium when the Rebels (6-3 overall, 2-3 SEC) and the Vols (5-4, 2-3) collide at 11 a.m. Central Time.

McCluster is so valuable that he played sparingly and got zero touches in last weekend's 38-14 blowout of Northern Arizona. Even so, he ranks second among all Rebel players in both rushing (473 yards) and receiving (352 yards). He leads the team in yards per carry at 5.8 and averages 13.0 yards per reception. He has Ole Miss' longest scrimmage run of the season (79 yards) and its third-longest reception (64 yards).

Most of McCluster's rushing yards come out of the so-called "Wild Rebel" formation, in which he lines up as a direct-snap tailback. He has not thrown a pass from the formation all year, yet opponents have been unable to stop him from running for chunks of yards. He became the first Ole Miss player in the modern era (1965 to now) to post at least 100 yards rushing (123) and receiving (137) in a game when he did so in the Rebels' 30-17 defeat of Arkansas on Oct. 24.

Obviously, stopping McCluster will be high on Tennessee's priority list Saturday in Oxford. Before the Vols can stop him, however, they must find him first.

"The problem with Dexter is he lines up everywhere," Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin said. "I don't know that I've seen a guy that can play running back and then go out and run all the receiver routes like he's been out there forever.

"Sometimes people will take receivers or running backs and run a couple of things with them, a couple of easy routes. But this guy runs a ton of different routes - routes that take a long time to develop. He presents all kinds of match-up issues. If you give him any space, he is so fast that he can out-run almost anybody."

After watching McCluster on TV, Vol defensive end Chris Walker thinks he's similar to Florida Gator scatbacks Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.

"He reminds me of some of the Florida guys in how quick and fast he is," Walker said. "When he gets his hands on the ball it's electric. He's a smaller guy, so he can fit through little holes and really get going.

"He's probably going to be one of the best we've faced all year - the way he moves and the ability he has to take it the distance any time he gets his hand on the ball. It's going to be a really big challenge for us."

McCluster is so elusive that he's difficult to bring down one-on-one. That's why Tennessee is looking to gang tackle him - and perhaps punish him a bit - this weekend.

"That's definitely our philosophy on defense," Walker said. "We're going to try to get a-hold of him, get 11 to the football and see how he can hold up against our pressure."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories