TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The Iron Bowl has long been a tool for both Auburn and Alabama. Steel sharpened steel. The most effective weapon prevailed, hardened by the experience. They were better off for it.
The 77th rendition of the rivalry won't be remembered that way. Alabama sliced and hacked and swung away at Auburn on Saturday afternoon, and the Tigers put up no resistance. The No. 2 Crimson Tide beat Auburn handily, 49-0, winning the SEC West title in anticlimactic fashion.
All Auburn coach Gene Chizik could feel after the game was let down.
"That was a very disappointing and embarrassing loss to our in-state rivals," he said. "It was obvious to everybody."
All Alabama running back Eddie Lacy could feel was excited.
"It was as close to perfect as we could get," he said.
If Auburn was supposed to be the tuneup before the SEC championship game, consider the Iron Bowl a drive-through oil change: fluids checked, tires rotated, confidence inflated. Alabama was in and out in a flash, primed for No. 3 Georgia in a matter of minutes.
Lacy knifed his way to 131 yards and two scores on the ground. Quarterback AJ McCarron carved up the Auburn defense for 216 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Amari Cooper stole 109 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
Alabama had as many touchdowns as Auburn had first downs.
"This was a great team victory," UA coach Nick Saban said. "Everybody contributed. We asked for everyone to play their best game today. When you make a commitment to something, it comes from the heart, and I really thought our players did that. Our players did a good job of that today and competed well."
Players were pleased but not content with the outcome. It was only two weeks ago they were licking their wounds after a loss to Texas A&M, a blow that looked to have shattered their title hopes. Alabama fell back into the national championship picture last Saturday as No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon fell in dramatic fashion. This weekend, UA got off the couch and earned it against a rival. Auburn wasn't the tool to make the Tide stronger, just a reminder of how dominant they can be.
And with Georgia on the horizon, a boost of confidence can't hurt.
"Playing a game like this, getting a shutout like we did and competing the way we did, it always helps you going into next week," UA cornerback Dee Milliner said. "We're going to need this momentum, as much as we can get."
"We're focusing on trying to get our players to play the best football that they can every week," he said. "Hopefully we'll continue to improve and play our best game somewhere."
While it can't hurt to reach for more, improvement seems unlikely after the thorough way Alabama dispatched Auburn. Winning by so much wasn't what any of the players expected, but they'll take the victory just the same.
Kevin Norwood seemed almost disappointed with the way the Tigers competed. Maybe it was too easy. The junior wide receiver, who finished with two touchdowns, thought the Tide would get a challenge. Instead, they got a walk in the park.
"We thought they would come bring the pain, everything they got with nothing to lose," he said. "Everything just worked out for us."