Clayton Tune Throws 2 TDs as Houston Tops Auburn in 2021 Birmingham BowlDecember 28, 2021
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:
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.
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.
The 6'3, 215-pound junior's mobility was on display throughout the game as he somehow avoided big hits with regularity.
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.
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:
Finley, meanwhile, looks like the favorite to begin next season as the starting quarterback after showing flashes of solid play in the Birmingham Bowl.
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.