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November 18, 2006

Cox gets redemption, Iron Bowl win

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. Brandon Cox lived up to his word.

After throwing four interceptions in a 37-15 loss to Georgia last week, the Auburn quarterback promised his teammates that he wouldn't deliver a repeat performance.

Cox backed up his statement two days later by rallying the Tigers to a 22-15 victory over Alabama that gave Auburn its fifth consecutive Iron Bowl triumph.

"I just came out today, played my game and didn't worry about last week," Cox said. "I just put it behind me."

How bad was he last week?

Cox threw an equal number of completions and interceptions. Only two of his four completions gained yardage. His leading receiver was Georgia defensive back Tra Battle, who picked him off three times.

Cox played so poorly that he discussed it with the rest of his offense on Thursday.

"He stood up and said, 'I played the worst game of my life, but I want you to know you can count on me to play well,' " Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "And he did."

That turned into a running theme all week. Auburn's players wore orange T-shirts with the slogan "Count On Me" during their postgame conversations with reporters.

But it's not as though Cox had to reassure anyone. The Tigers never lost faith in their quarterback.

"After last week, it was tough," Cox said. "Teammates came up to me, and they told me that they believed in me. (I got support from) coaches and everybody. That helps a lot in putting it behind you and getting on with things."

Although Cox went only 6-of-14 for 137 yards against Alabama, the Tigers could count on the junior quarterback when they needed him most.

After Alabama erased an 11-point deficit to take a 15-14 lead early in the third quarter, Cox calmly marched the Tigers down the field later in the period.

His 37-yard sideline pass to Carl Stewart put Auburn within striking range at Alabama's 17-yard line. Three plays later, Prechae Rodriguez ran a slant-and-go route and caught a 22-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone to put the Tigers ahead for good.

"He kept his composure the whole game," said Rodriguez, who had entered the game with only 12 catches for 128 yards all season. "He made plays. That's the type of player he is."

Cox had to rely on lesser-known players such as Stewart and Rodriguez because a hamstring injury sidelined leading receiver Courtney Taylor for almost the entire game. Cox also continued to have limited mobility after rupturing the bursa sac in his right knee weeks ago.

That may help explain Cox's slow start Saturday.

He misfired on his first five pass attempts and went just 2-of-9 in the before halftime. Auburn took an early 14-3 lead only after a pair of Alabama turnovers gave the Tigers excellent field position on each of their first two touchdown drives.

"I think I was putting a little too much on my throws," Cox said. "I needed a little time to relax and get settled in."

Cox started calming down at the same time Auburn fans started feeling nervous.

The junior quarterback went 2-of-3 for 59 yards on that go-ahead touchdown drive and didn't attempt another pass the rest of the day. His final statistics didn't look particularly impressive, but his cool demeanor amid the Iron Bowl's white-hot intensity rewarded his teammates' unwavering faith in him.

"He was the last guy I was worried about going into this game," Auburn linebacker Will Herring said. "I've seen his ups and downs. Last week was one of his subpar performances, but he took a lot of pounding. His body's banged up, but his heart and character were definitely made evident tonight."

This isn't the only time Cox has bounced back from a poor outing.

In the first start of his career last year, Cox threw four interceptions as Auburn suffered a season-opening upset loss to Georgia Tech. He responded to that dismal performance by leading Auburn to a share of the SEC West title, though LSU ended up representing the division in the conference championship game.

Auburn finished last year with a 9-3 record, which made the Tigers' 10th win of the 2006 season a special one.

"Last year we had nine wins," Cox said. "We had a chance to make it 10, and we didn't. This year, with 10 wins, that solidifies our position."

Auburn solidified its position as one of the nation's elite programs.

And along the way, Cox cemented his status as a quality college quarterback.

For more coverage of Arkansas, visit AuburnSports.com; for more on Alabama, visit BamaOnLine.com.

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