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Clayton Tune Throws 2 TDs as Houston Tops Auburn in 2021 Birmingham Bowl

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVDecember 29, 2021

AP Photo/Butch Dill

Houston ended its 2021 season on a high note with a 17-13 win over Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl on Tuesday. 

Quarterback Clayton Tune led the way with two passing touchdowns for the Cougars in what was effectively a road game at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama.

Down three in the fourth quarter, Tune connected with Jake Herslow for the go-ahead touchdown with just over three minutes remaining:

Bleacher Report CFB @BR_CFB

JAKE HERSLOW GIVES HOUSTON THE LEAD.<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/UHCougarFB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@UHCougarFB</a>)<a href="https://t.co/faI7uvCw55">pic.twitter.com/faI7uvCw55</a>

The Cougars had two turnovers and went over 30 minutes of game time between points, but they found a way to win with strong defense and clutch offensive plays.

Houston improved to 12-2, the third season in school history with at least 12 wins. It represents a major turnaround for head coach Dana Holgorsen, who went just 7-13 in his first two years with the program.

It's also the team's first bowl win since winning the Peach Bowl after the 2015 season.

Auburn (6-7) ends the year with five straight losses in the first season under Bryan Harsin. With former starting quarterback Bo Nix transferring to Oregon, backup TJ Finley couldn't muster enough offense for the Tigers.


Notable Performances

Clayton Tune, QB, HOU: 283 passing yards, two TDs, one INT, 43 rushing yards

Alton McCaskill, RB, HOU: 14 carries, 78 rushing yards

Nathaniel Dell, WR, HOU: 10 catches, 150 receiving yards

TJ Finley, QB, AUB: 227 passing yards, one TD

Tank Bigsby, RB, AUB: 16 carries, 96 rushing yards, five catches, 68 receiving yards

Kobe Hudson, WR, AUB: four catches, 57 receiving yards, one TD


Tune Lifts Houston to Impressive Win

The American Athletic Conference improved to 3-0 in bowl games after Tuesday's win, while the SEC dropped to 0-3. Houston showed it belonged with a strong overall performance that was led by its quarterback.

Tune showcased his scrambling ability early on, including on the first touchdown of the game.

ESPN College Football @ESPNCFB

Clayton Tune escapes the pressure and finds Alton McCaskill for 6️⃣ <a href="https://t.co/8GnMsQ09ZC">pic.twitter.com/8GnMsQ09ZC</a>

The 6'3, 215-pound junior's mobility was on display throughout the game as he somehow avoided big hits with regularity.

Nathan King @NathanKing247

Clayton Tune just juked Smoke Monday into oblivion.

Joseph Duarte @Joseph_Duarte

Crowd erupts thinking Clayton Tune was sacked. He avoids the tackle, throws and completes pass for 4-yard gain. The Houdini of quarterbacks

Chad Reuter @chad_reuter

UH QB Clayton Tune has avoided multiple free blitzes today to get rid of the ball. Slippery.

He extended plays with his legs to make things happen offensively, while his 43 rushing yards was among his career best.

Nathaniel Dell was also a reliable option down the field, representing more than half of the passing yards during the game with 150 receiving yards on 10 catches.

With a defense that forced Auburn into six punts and two turnovers on downs, Houston certainly earned the victory.


Young Playmakers Show Auburn's Future

Auburn was without Nix as well as offensive linemen Brodarious Hamm and TaShawn Manning, while the defense was short-handed without cornerback Roger McCreary and linebacker Zakoby McClain. Cornerback Jaylin Simpson and star safety Smoke Monday were then both ejected in the second half because of targeting calls.

Houston played without Logan Hall and top cornerback Marcus Jones, but Auburn had a lot to overcome with personnel. On the positive side, the absences allowed the team to prepare for the future with players who could have key roles in 2022.

Tank Bigsby will clearly remain a focal point of the offense, and he was effective once again Tuesday as both a runner and receiver.

ESPN College Football @ESPNCFB

Big play for <a href="https://twitter.com/AuburnFootball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AuburnFootball</a> ‼️<br><br>No. 71 was MOVING 😤 <a href="https://t.co/1fPhsJ0eqk">pic.twitter.com/1fPhsJ0eqk</a>

Nathan King @NathanKing247

Auburn's offense when Tank Bigsby touches the ball: 8.1 yards per play. <br><br>Auburn's offense when Tank Bigsby doesn't touch the ball: 3.7 yards per play.

Auburn Football @AuburnFootball

There. goes. that. man. 😤<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WarEagle?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WarEagle</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/tank_bigsby?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@tank_bigsby</a> <a href="https://t.co/gPHqrwEzQ1">pic.twitter.com/gPHqrwEzQ1</a>

The sophomore running back tallied 164 yards from scrimmage as the most dynamic offensive player for either team.

Kobe Hudson also impressed throughout the game, especially with his third-quarter touchdown catch:

SEC Network @SECNetwork

Kobe Hudson with the toe tap in the end zone 🔥 <a href="https://t.co/nYAjqCQOTR">pic.twitter.com/nYAjqCQOTR</a>

Tom Green @Tomas_Verde

Kobe Hudson is that dude.<br><br>Touchdown, Auburn. T.J. Finley to Kobe for a 12-yard touchdown -- and Auburn's first lead of the game with 3:52 to play in the third.

Brian Stultz @brianjstultz

That was a nice throw by Finley and Hudson continues to show why he will be receiver No. 1 to start next season.<a href="https://t.co/uNq5Lq9jm6">https://t.co/uNq5Lq9jm6</a>

Finley, meanwhile, looks like the favorite to begin next season as the starting quarterback after showing flashes of solid play in the Birmingham Bowl.

Emory Hunt @FBallGameplan

Throughout this game, TJ Finley’s ball placement has been the most impressive thing

Consistency was an issue, but the talent is clearly there for the 6'7" sophomore to be an impact quarterback at this level.

More playing time could lead to even more success as the Tigers try to build an SEC contender.   

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