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Sack-happy Auburn bags Iron Bowl win

AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn felt like the wrong team was getting all the hype in this state, and the Tigers set out to prove it yesterday.

Unleashing a relentless pass rush, No. 11 Auburn upstaged one of the nation's stingiest defenses and remained dominant in the Iron Bowl with a 28-18 win over No. 8 Alabama.

By halftime, the Tigers (9-2, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) were up, 28-7, against a team that was drawing national title buzz two weeks ago. By the end, they had sacked Brodie Croyle 11 times and shut down any hint of a comeback.

''I think they got full of themselves," Auburn linebacker Travis Williams said. ''They won some games this year by the skin of their teeth. We were watching it all year and we were like, 'Man, these guys keep escaping.'

''We really wanted them to be undefeated coming into this game so we could really make them look bad."

Auburn assured itself at least a share of the West Division title for the fifth time in six seasons with its second straight win over a top-10 team and fourth in a row over its chief rival. LSU, though, will play for the SEC title with a win over Arkansas next week.

With an anemic offense, Alabama (9-2, 6-2) continued a season-ending tumble with its second loss in a row after riding the nation's top scoring defense to a No. 4 ranking.

''Two weeks ago, we were 9-0 and we felt like we were knocking on the door," Tide coach Mike Shula said. ''Now we feel like we are trying to find the right address."

The Tigers sacked Croyle seven times for minus-51 yards in the first half and cashed in on three short touchdown drives in the opening 11 minutes. Brandon Cox threw two touchdown passes and Ben Obomanu scored on a 7-yard catch and a 45-yard reverse before halftime.

''We didn't have our poise in the first half and that is something that if you don't have it against a good football team at home, it is going to be ugly," Shula said.

Alabama's offense couldn't muster a comeback, allowing Auburn fans to comfortably gloat with chants of ''Overrated!"

''There was no doubt who was going to win this football game after the first 5 or 6 minutes," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. ''Our guys came out and made a statement."

The game hardly lived up to its billing. The teams entered the game with the best combined record since coming in 19-0-1 in 1994, but it was a mismatch from the outset.

Auburn's defense bullied a young offensive line so badly, the Tide handed off to Kenneth Darby on three consecutive plays down 18 points in the final minutes of the third quarter.

''It was a beautiful sight," Tuberville said of the defensive performance that limited Alabama to 188 yards.

The Tigers were coming off a 31-30 win at Georgia and have now won six of their last seven games against top-10 teams.

Croyle was just 13 of 25 for a season-low 109 yards, many of those coming on a late drive.

''I think after we started hitting him a few times he got a little rattled," defensive tackle T.J. Jackson said. ''Every time we hit him and picked him up we told him, 'Hey, we'll be back.' "

Making his first Iron Bowl start, Cox was 13 of 15 for 120 yards in the first half. After that, he mostly handed off to Kenny Irons or threw it away under pressure to avoid mistakes.

''We put up 28 points and kind of coasted from there," Cox said.

Irons gained 103 yards on 28 carries, including an 8-yard scoring run, for his sixth consecutive 100-yard effort.

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