Nov. 24, 2007
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Nick Saban dominated the headlines, but the Iron Bowl still belongs to Tommy Tuberville and Auburn.
Even the formula remained the same: Stingy defense and a bruising running game.
Brandon Cox scored on a 1-yard sneak with 3:58 left and the Tigers held on for a 17-10 win over Alabama that extended their winning streak in the bitter rivalry to a school-record six games.
Nearly as important for Auburn (8-4, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) is that 1-0 record over Saban, the $4 million-a-year coach whose hire made a splash in college football.
"It will last forever," Tigers defensive tackle Josh Thompson said. "It'll mean something forever. We're going to celebrate it tonight and the next night. Maybe about three or four days."
Alabama (6-6, 4-4) hired Saban to coach the Crimson Tide after last season, in part to come up with a way to beat the Tigers. Not only was he unable to do that, but the Tide is no lock to even reach the postseason.
Alabama lost its final four games and is one of 10 SEC teams vying for bowl spots. The Tide was stung badly a week earlier by a stunning loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
"The most disappointing thing about this season is we didn't finish," Saban said. "I failed the players in not getting them to be able to finish. There's a lot of sad guys in there right now. "
However, he added, "I haven't been involved in a game that had any more excitement or enthusiasm than this game."
After Alabama's Leigh Tiffin kicked a 49-yard field goal with 2:11 to make it 17-10, Auburn (8-4, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock with Brad Lester gaining 12 yards on fourth-and-1 from the Crimson Tide 30.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges put the situation in perspective on the sideline during the timeout,
"He called us to the sidelines and said, 'You've got a foot to go to beat Alabama,"' Cox said.
The victory touched off a jubilant celebration, with defensive end Quentin Groves leading the band in the school fight song and Tuberville running off the field with six fingers extended into the air. The Tigers already had their first five-year Iron Bowl winning streak since 1958.
Tuberville has owned the Iron Bowl, going 7-2, but there's been speculation this could be his last one. He declined to discuss reports that he was a contender for the vacant Texas A&M job. Athletic director Jay Jacobs said Saturday he believes the coach remains "our guy" and that they would meet over the next few days.
"We're not talking about that right now," Tuberville said. "We're talking about Alabama."
Saban will get more chances to beat Auburn, but seniors like Wallace Gilberry left without ever managing that.
"We'll have to deal with it the rest of our lives," the defensive end said.
The teams combined for just 507 yards, relying on defense and conservative offensive plans.
"It was a typical Iron Bowl," Tuberville said. "There was a lot of defense. There was a lot of hard hitting."
The Tigers got help from special teams and an Alabama blunder to finally extend the three-point lead they nursed most of the game. Robert Dunn gave the sputtering offense some help with a 31-yard punt return into Tide territory.
After a couple of first downs, Cox had to throw the ball away on second-and-12. Alabama defensive lineman Keith Saunders' hit out of bounds gave the Tigers first-and-goal from the 8. Lester ran for 6 yards and was initially credited with a score on the next play before a review put the ball just shy of the goal line.
It didn't matter. Cox rode the line's surge into the end zone to make it 17-7.
John Parker Wilson then led Alabama down the field. The Tide converted a fourth-and-1 on Glen Coffee's 3-yard run to the Auburn 32, but the best the Tide could do was Tiffin's long field goal.
The onside kick bounced into Auburn tight end Cole Bennett's hands and Lester and the Tigers worked the clock down. It was a nice way for Auburn to cap a regular season that included a 45-20 drubbing at Georgia two weeks ago, followed by an off week to stew over the defeat.
"It's been an up and down season for us," Cox said. "It hasn't been the season we wanted it to be but we told them if we beat Alabama everyone would love us and we would feel great about ourselves. And that's what happened."
Lester finished with 98 yards on 22 carries. Ben Tate ran 11 times for 77 yards.
Cox was 12-of-22 for 117 yards with an interception.
Alabama, which welcomed back three starters after a four-game suspension for improper receipt of textbooks, managed 225 yards.
Wilson was 12-of-26 with an interception by Jerraud Powers off a deflection in the end zone late in the first half. He didn't complete a pass to the SEC's leading receiver, DJ Hall, until the final drive.
Coffee, one of the players returning from suspension, gained 60 yards on 20 carries. Top rusher Terry Grant had been nursing a hip problem and didn't play.
Both teams had fourth down gambles lead to touchdowns in the first half. Tate scored on a 3-yard run on the Tigers' first possession after Auburn converted a fourth-and-inches on Cox's quarterback sneak from the Alabama 30.
The Tigers took a 10-0 lead late in the quarter on Wes Byrum's 37-yard field goal.
Then, Wilson scored on a sneak on fourth-and-1 from the 2-yard line.
The defenses took over from there and the next score didn't come until almost 38 minutes later.