Mayo on a roll

With just a bowl game left to be played, Tennessee's football season is getting finished ... just as the Vols' middle linebacker is getting started.

Defensive coordinator John Chavis said earlier this year that Jerod Mayo was performing at an All-America level. In Games 11, 12 and 13, Mayo was more like All-World.

In Game 11 vs. Vanderbilt he recorded 7 solos, 8 assists and 15 total stops. Notably, 2.5 of his solos were for minus yardage.

In Game 12 vs. Kentucky he recorded 11 solos, 8 assists and 19 total stops. He had 1.5 tackles for loss and also found time to break up two passes.

In Game 13 vs. LSU for the SEC Championship he recorded 8 solos, 7 assists and 15 total stops. He also contributed a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry.

Over the past three games Mayo registered 49 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. That's a pretty good season for some guys.

After playing weakside linebacker as a freshman and sophomore, Mayo moved to the middle for 2007. He has grown more comfortable with each passing week. He also has gotten more help with each passing week from a Vol defensive line that was awful when the season started. When asked on Saturday's post-game show why he finished the regular season on such a roll, Mayo said it was "a combination of both."

Although he obviously he has grown more familiar with the demands of a middle linebacker during the course of the season, the 6-2, 230-pound junior suggested the improvement of the D-line may have been the biggest factor in his improved play down the stretch.

"I've been blessed with speed from side to side," he said, "and those guys upfront have been blessed with size, so they keep those other big guys (blockers) off me, allow me to run sideline to sideline. That's pretty much what it is."

There is no more hard-nosed competitor on Tennessee's roster than Mayo. As a result, he is not interested in moral victories. Still, he clearly was encouraged by the play of his fellow defenders in Saturday's 21-14 loss to LSU.

"Even though we gave up a lot of yards, we held 'em from scoring points," he said. "I'm real proud of the guys upfront and behind me and all around me."

Mayo made what might have been his biggest play of the game with around five minutes left, except that Tennessee was unable to capitalize. With LSU hoping to run out the clock and preserve its seven-point lead, Mayo stuffed 230-pound Tiger running back Jacob Hester for a one-yard gain on third-and-two at the LSU 30-yard line, forcing a punt.

"I just shot the gap," Mayo said matter of factly. "Those defensive linemen did an excellent job keeping the guys off of me and I just made a play."

Mayo spent much of Saturday afternoon slamming into Hester, who finished with 120 hard-earned yards on 23 carries.

"He's a great running back," Mayo said. "He runs low, runs hard. He got me a couple of times and I got him a couple of times but it was a great battle."

The last three weeks anyone who faced Jerod Mayo has been in for a battle. It's too bad the season is getting finished just as he's getting started.


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