Numbers don't lie ... or do they?

When Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo recorded 15 tackles last weekend against Vanderbilt, some observers were wondering: How can he be so productive at home and so unproductive on the road?

Two of Jerod Mayo's worst performances of 2007 – statistically, at least – came in Game 3 at Florida (6 tackles) and Game 6 at Mississippi State (4 tackles). When asked about the low totals, Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis shook his head.

"Mayo would be embarrassed for me saying this but several road games his tackle numbers were that high (15) or higher," Chavis said.

So, why hasn't Mayo gotten credit for many of his 2007 tackles? Basically, the NCAA uses the numbers compiled by the home team's statistician. Seated in the press box with a spotter to assist him, the statistician gets one quick look at each play. It is inevitable he will miss some things that coaches discover while watching a play on tape several times. And that, Chavis contends, is why Mayo's numbers on the stat sheet are not nearly as imposing as the numbers Tennessee's coaches compile.

"You're looking at press-box numbers," the Vol aide said. "I've been told that the (jersey) numbers are hard to see on the road (orange numbers on white jerseys)."

Chavis insists that he is not looking to pad Mayo's stats in order to help the 6-2, 230-pound junior earn all-star recognition.

"When I grade the film, I grade it harder than anyone else, and there were several games where I had him with five to eight tackles more than the press box had him," the coordinator said. "But everybody goes on press-box totals. They don't rely on the coaches to do that because people score it so different."

Bottom line: Chavis says Mayo's 15-tackle performance against Vandy wasn't significantly better than his performances in the previous 10 games.

"The numbers have been there," the coordinator said, "but if you look at the press-box totals you're not going to see it."

Because Mayo's tackle totals are not as imposing as many observers projected, some have speculated that his adjustment from weakside linebacker in '06 to middle linebacker in '07 has been tougher than expected. Chavis scoffs at such talk.

"I don't think it's that tough," the Vol aide said. "He played there a good portion of last year. If you're a football player you're a football player. That's the bottom line, and he IS a football player. It's not that difficult (an adjustment). He's handled it well. He's led our team in tackles the entire year, so I don't see him struggling that much."

Chavis recently suggested that Mayo has been playing like an All-American in recent weeks. Phillip Fulmer agrees.

"Jerod's having a great year," the head man said. "He's played better and better as the season has gone along. His effort was outstanding the last two Saturdays (vs. Arkansas and Vandy).

"He's smart, tough, fast. He has a great will to get to the ball and he's very tough when he gets there"

Like Chavis, Fulmer dismisses the idea that Mayo needed some time to get comfortable in the middle of the defense this fall.

"When Marvin (Mitchell) was hurt last year he played a lot in the middle," the head man said. "It's not like he's been totally thrown into it."

So why has Mayo given four of his best performances of the season in the past six weeks?

"I think it's a reflection of the front getting better," Fulmer said. "That's it more than anything else. We're holding our gaps better, doing a much better job of getting off blocks, and he doesn't have to make every tackle."

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