- Vol Report: Published Nov. 11, 2007
- PostGame audio slide show: UT vs. Vanderbilt
- Box Score: UT vs. Vanderbilt
- Dave Hooker's Audio
Tennessee Stat Book
The shovels were out and the digging had begun.
Dirt - the kind of the six-feet-under variety - was being piled on another University of Tennessee football season.
"The grave was already dug and the tombstone put in place for this football team," UT defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "They didn't buy it.
"We've got a chance to go to Lexington and we'll have an opportunity to go to a championship. It says there is some resolve to this football team."
All the resolve the Vols could muster was needed Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
Somehow, a 24-9 fourth-quarter deficit turned into a 25-24 victory against Vanderbilt.
Somehow, a defense that looked shaky for three quarters made three consecutive three-and-out stops on Vandy as UT rallied.
Somehow, the Vols dug themselves out of an early grave.
"Our guys got it done when they had to get it done," Chavis said. "We decided as a team we were going to get things stopped and they manned up and did it."
Junior linebacker Jerod Mayo "manned up" and went out of his comfort zone to give an impassioned halftime pep talk to a lethargic UT team.
"We had two quarters left to play championship football," Mayo said he told his teammates. "We could go home or come out and play.
"That's what the guys did. Even though (Vandy) scored coming out of halftime, we buckled down when it really counted and made plays."
Especially Mayo. He was everywhere.
He had a career-high 15 tackles, including 2 1/2 for a loss to lead the Vols (8-3, 5-2 SEC).
Fellow linebacker Rico McCoy added 11 stops and senior Ryan Karl six.
"I've had some good groups, but I wouldn't trade this group for any I've had," Chavis said. "When you say that, you know you had Al Wilson, Raynoch Thompson and Eric Westmoreland who played together.
"This group is as fine as any I've been around."
Chavis especially singled out Mayo as the Hampton, Va., native came through with his fifth double-digit tackle effort of the season.
"It would be hard for me to believe anybody has played any better than Jerod Mayo this year," he said. "Mayo's having an All-American kind of year.
"Whether he gets any honors or not, all he wants to do is win. He'll do whatever you ask him to do and he's a winner."
He's also humble.
Mayo deflected any praise for his play and aimed it at the defensive line.
"Those guys up front just did an excellent job keeping guys off of us," he said. "Even though Demonte (Bolden, turf toe) wasn't able to go much in the second half, J.T. Mapu and Dan Williams played lights out.
"That's how this team has played all year, somebody goes down and somebody else steps up and makes plays."
Williams came off the bench in place of Bolden and tied a career-high with six tackles.
"Coach (Phillip) Fulmer did light into us and reignite our fire at halftime," Williams said. "He knew we were the best team on that field.
"We knew we could get a stop every time. We just had to buckle down and let the offense do their thing."
That's exactly what happened.
Vanderbilt had 16 offensive plays in the fourth quarter and gained a total of 16 yards.
Not even a pass interference call on DeAngelo Willingham deterred the Vols' defense.
It kept Vanderbilt's final drive alive, but the Commodores had to settle for a 49-yard field goal attempt from Bryant Hahnfeldt that grazed off the left upright and went wide.
"All we could do is turn around and watch," Mapu said. "It looked for a second like it was going in, but some of the guys were joking that God wants us to be in Atlanta (for the SEC championship)."
Chavis didn't go that far. He just said it's all in a day's work in college football these days.
"Sometimes you get the breaks and sometimes you don't," he said. "Our guys went out and earned a victory today.
"We had some go our way and some against us, but we had enough to get the win.
In the end, that's all that mattered.
They lived to see another day. SEC championship hopes are still alive.