AUBURN, Ala. - Unleashing a relentless pass rush, No. 11 Auburn upstaged one of the nation's stingiest defenses to remain dominant in the Iron Bowl.
Brandon Cox passed for two first-half touchdowns and the Tigers sacked Brodie Croyle 11 times in a 28-18 victory over No. 8 Alabama Saturday, their fourth consecutive win in this bitter rivalry.
Auburn (9-2, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) clinched at least a share of the Western Division title for the fifth time in six seasons with their second straight win over a top-10 team. LSU would play for the SEC title with wins over Mississippi and Arkansas.
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 into national title contention earlier in the year.
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 en route to a 28-7 halftime lead. Alabama's offense couldn't muster even the hint of a comeback, allowing Auburn fans to 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.
Alabama managed just 188 yards, losing 81 on sacks.
This is the first time since 1986-89 that Auburn has won four Iron Bowl games in a row. Several players rushed straight to the student section to celebrate and defensive end Quentin Groves plunged into the stands. Tuberville waved a white towel toward the fans as he took a brief victory trot behind the end zone.
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 passing for a season-low 109 yards, many of those coming on a late drive that fell short.
Making his first Iron Bowl start, Cox was 13-of-15 for 120 yards in the first half, including TD passes of 7 yards to Ben Obomanu and Cole Bennett. After that, he mostly handed off to Kenny Irons or threw it away under pressure to avoid mistakes.
Irons gained 103 yards on 28 carries, including an 8-yard scoring run, for his sixth consecutive 100-yard effort. Obomanu added a 45-yard reverse for his second TD of the first quarter.
Darby gained 91 yards on 18 carries.
Alabama drove deep into Auburn territory twice in the closing minutes. The first threat ended with a sack. Backup quarterback John Parker Wilson hit DJ Hall on a 37-yard pass on fourth down and plunged over the goal line on the next play with 23 seconds left. The Tide converted the 2-point play.
The Tigers got three touchdowns after starting near or across midfield in the first 11 minutes. The Tide was pushed back for a loss of 35 yards on its first four possessions, setting up the good field position. Croyle was sacked seven times and recovered his own fumble after a botched handoff on another play.
The Tigers' worst starting position during that stretch was their own 45.
Auburn had 187 yards to Alabama's 43 in the first half.
Alabama had built a 9-0 record before injuries to receiver Tyrone Prothro and center JB Closner took away their main big-play threat and the offensive line's lone senior.
The Tigers had been overshadowed all season by the Tide, building the league's top offense despite the loss of three NFL first-round draft picks from the backfield.