Vols scored KO on the KO

Reserve linebacker Andre Mathis didn't get a game ball for his performance in the 2006 Tennessee-Cal football game but he probably should've.

It was Mathis who sprinted downfield covering the opening kickoff and flattened 6-5, 258-pound Golden Bear tight end Craig Stevens, sidelining him for the remainder of the game.

"I think the opening kickoff set the tone for the whole game – knocking out that tight end on the first play," Tennessee middle linebacker Jerod Mayo recalled this week. "When their starting tight end got hurt on the first play, those guys (Golden Bears) were like 'Oh, man, we're in a little bit of trouble.'

"Andre Mathis actually knocked the guy out. He made a heck of a play. We don't ever try to hurt people but, at the same time, we try to go out there and play physical football. I hope we can do the same thing Saturday (in the rematch at Berkeley)."

Mathis wasn't the only Vol defender who had a big impact on last year's game with Cal. Mayo recorded three sacks and a pass deflection that evening, earning Walter Camp National Player of the Week recognition for his efforts. He gives the credit to his teammates, however.

"It was the front four," he said. "Justin Harrell and Turk McBride were opening lanes for me to go through and make plays. Hopefully, J.T. Mapu and Demonte Bolden will do the same this year."

Mathis' big hit on the opening kickoff and Mayo's sacks helped Tennessee build a 35-0 lead en route to a 35-18 triumph in last year's game with Cal. Naturally, the Golden Bears are eager to avenge themselves in Saturday night's rematch.

"I'm sure they're fired up," Mayo said, "but we're fired up, as well. We still have a chip on our shoulder. The last game we played we lost – to Penn State in the Outback Bowl – so both teams are going to have chips on their shoulders.

"I'm sure this will be a great game to watch."

Unless you happen to get in Andre Mathis' path on the opening kickoff.


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