Turn the Tide, turn the season?

Alabama may be just what the doctor ordered for the disappointing Tennessee Vols. <p> When the 1998 Vols were struggling to score points, managing just 17 against Auburn in Game 4 and 22 against Georgia in Game 5, they got healthy by trouncing Bama 35-18 in Game 6, then went on to win the national title.

In an otherwise disappointing 1999 season, the Vols played their best game of the year at Tuscaloosa, dominating the 10th-ranked Tide 21-7.

The 2000 Vols, coming off a 21-10 Game 5 loss to Georgia, inserted freshman Casey Clausen at quarterback and regrouped in time to dump Alabama 20-10 in Game 6.

The trend continued in 2001. Coming off a 26-24 homefield loss to Georgia, the Vols got a big touchdown late from Travis Stephens and bounced Bama 35-24 in Tuscaloosa.

''There were about three holding penalties the refs didn't call,'' Vol offensive tackle Will Ofenheusle recalled. ''We were lucky to get Travis in there.... That kind of turned our season around.''

Indeed. In fact, beating Bama ignited 7-0 stretch runs in both 2000 and 2001.

''The Alabama game's been a good point in our season,'' Ofenheusle said. ''Hopefully, history won't change.''

So, for a Tennessee team that was projected to be a national title contender but now limps along at 4-2 overall and 1-2 in SEC play, this may be the perfect time to face the Crimson Tide.

As Ofenheusle noted: ''We have a lot of motivation going into this game -- to kind of get our season going in the right direction.''

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