USM looks to No. 15 Tennessee

Published 11:48 pm Monday, September 3, 2007

JACKSON (AP) — Southern Miss churned the turf with 310 yards rushing in its 35-13 win over Tennessee-Martin last weekend. But if the Golden Eagles are to have a chance against No. 15 Tennessee, they’ll have to get more out of the passing game.

Quarterback Jeremy Young was still suffering from a sprained thumb in the opener with the No. 18 Skyhawks of the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA. But coach Jeff Bower believes he’ll be healed for Saturday’s game in Knoxville.

“The swelling has gone down, but I think it is still affecting him some,” Bower said. “There were a couple of passes there where it was pretty obvious he wasn’t quite what he had been.”

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Young threw for 115 yards on 11 of 26 passing with a touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed for 55 yards.

But with tailback Damion Fletcher rushing for 156 yards, Young found himself leaning on the running game early until he hit Chris Johnson with a 3-yard scoring pass in the second half.

“It’s always tough getting a feel for a new team in the first game,” Young said. “Luckily we got that run game going early and we were consistent with it all night.

“We were doing so well with the run game, you know, why go away from it?”

The answer to that question changes when the opponent does. While Tennessee-Martin is a playoff team in its division, Southern Miss is bigger and faster and has more scholarship players to choose from.

The Volunteers, however, are bigger, faster and stronger than the Golden Eagles and likely will bring eight players up to the line of scrimmage to stifle the run if Young doesn’t prove himself a threat.

“I think we’ve got to throw it more and we’ve got to throw more effectively,” Bower said.

Young and the coaching staff were excited about the possibilities in the passing game during preseason practice. Young was supposed to blossom this season after a year of experience as the starter.

He struggled with a turf toe injury for much of the second half last year, yet still guided the Golden Eagles to a GMAC Bowl berth and the Conference USA championship game.

He completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,769 yards. After throwing three interceptions in the opener against Florida, he threw just three more the rest of the season and hit for 12 touchdown passes.

Young said he’s confident the team — and its passing game — will be up to the challenge in Knoxville.

“I’m quite sure we can pick it up this week and be ready for (Saturday’s game),” Young said. “We can’t start out as slow. With a team like Tennessee, you have to go out and make things happen early and often so that is what we are striving for.”