I know very little about Southern Mississippi and I figured most readers were uniformed as well. So I pulled out the Phil Steele and put together this preview of the Golden Eagles. I hope this helps people out and if it well received I would be happy to do another one for a future opponent.
Southern Mississippi comes into Knoxville off a 35-13 win over UT-Martin. They always seem to play BCS conference teams tough and occasionally pull out the victory, such as their win over Alabama in 2000 and Nebraska in 2004. The last time the two faced each other USM hung in the entire game with the Vols edging out a 19-16 victory. Last year they played both Florida and Virginia Tech in lopsided games. However, they only trailed Florida by seven late in the third quarter and had outgained Virginia Tech at the half.
The Golden Eagles have an excellent front seven returning with all of their starting linebackers back and the majority of their defensive line rotation. The weakness of the defense should be the secondary with two new cornerbacks. Last year they allowed 3.9 ypc and should improve on that number this year. The run defense did struggle at times allowing Tulsa and Virginia Tech to run at will. The pass defense allowed a respectable 180 ypg. As was the case with the rush defense the better passing teams were able to have good days throwing the ball with both Florida and Houston doing well.
Southern Miss returns their leading rusher, passer and receiver. Last year they had an excellent run game with true freshman Damion Fletcher leading the way with 1338 yards and 11 touchdowns. Their leading receiver was TE Shawn Nelson who should have a very good year. The quarterback is Jeremy Young who was adequate after taking over the starting job. Only two starting offensive lineman return from an excellent unit. Both starting tackles are back with two other lineman having had playing time. The unit will probably not perform up to last year's standard but should be competent.
The only notable thing to mention is that their punter is named Britt Barefoot who I am guessing does not actually punt barefoot, although I wish he did.
The Golden Eagles had an easy victory over the Skyhawks. They were able to run at will with Fletcher rushing for 156 yards and averaging 8.6 yards per carry. The passing game struggled with Young completing less than 50% of his passes. The defense stopped the run but did allow some yards through the air. Barefoot had an excellent game punting the ball for a net average of 44.5 yards. The kicker did miss his only field goal try of 42 yards.
Tennessee's main concern entering this game should be stopping the run. Tennessee should employ an eight man front for most of the game. Against the Skyhawks Young showed an ability to run posting 55 yards on 8 carries. The Vols defense should be mindful of his running capabilities, since we seem to always struggle with mobile quarterbacks. Tennessee should not respect the pass until Young shows he has the ability complete throws down the field. On offense Tennessee will struggle to run the ball effectively. However, our strength in the passing game should set up well to take advantage of their weaknesses in the defensive backfield. A lot of three wide receiver packages should be utilized to take advantage of mismatches and hope to make the Golden Eagles have to substitute for one of their linebackers. If Tennessee shows an ability to stop the run, and that is a big if (especially after last week), they should win easily. While Southern Miss should be able to keep our running backs in check, I do believe the Vols should be successful passing the ball. I feel that Southern Miss will keep the game close for most of the game playing ball control offense utilizing their run game, however, their ineffectiveness throwing the ball will eventually allow Tennessee to take control of the game. Tennessee wins 27-17.