My pick: Tennessee 27, Alabama 17

Tennessee fans used to grumble that the Alabama game made Vol head coach Johnny Majors rely too heavily on a conservative, ground-hugging offense ... ''Johnny Ball'' they called it.

Well, Phillip Fulmer has all but promised he's going with the same plan in this Saturday's Alabama game.

Will it work? Probably not. But the Vols eventually will shift their emphasis to exploit an Alabama pass defense that has been struggling lately. The Tide surrendered 34 points to Arkansas, 37 to Georgia and 43 to Ole Miss in recent weeks.

That's the same Arkansas offense that was limited to 3 points on its home field by Auburn two weeks after facing Alabama. That's the same Georgia offense that was held scoreless in the first half by Vanderbilt last weekend. That's the same Ole Miss offense that scored just 20 points against Florida two weeks earlier.

Alabama ranks fifth among SEC schools in rushing defense but 10th in pass-effiency defense. That means Vol quarterback Casey Clausen should be able to put up some big numbers this weekend once Fulmer elects to mix in a few passes.

Moreover, this is a great time to be facing Bama. Several of the Tide's best players are injured and all of them are a bit weary, since Alabama has not enjoyed an open date all season.

''This is their ninth game without an open date,'' Vol offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said, ''so hopefully they're a little tired. That'd be nice.''

It'll be ever nicer to face a defense that doesn't have a disruptive force the caliber of David Pollack. Georgia's superstar defensive end made life miserable for Tennessee's offense in Game 6. It was Pollack whose penetration contributed to a Clausen fumble that Georgia's Sean Jones returned 92 yards for the Bulldogs' second TD. And it was Pollack's hit on Clausen which forced an interception that set up Georgia's fourth TD.

''We tried to help some on Pollack but he really took over the game in the third quarter,'' Sanders noted. ''He beat double-teams a couple of times, and a couple of times we tried to help with a back and he ended up beating us inside when the back went outside. We tried to slide the line that way a time or two but the guy's a great football player. Anybody wanting to learn how to play ought to watch him because he plays every down as hard as anybody I've ever seen in my life.''

Fortunately for Sanders, Alabama doesn't have a pass rusher the caliber of Pollack. That's why Bama has so much trouble stopping the pass. So, unless Tennessee stubbornly tries to run when the ground game isn't working, the Vols should be able to put up some points this weekend.

My pick: Tennessee 27, Alabama 17


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