No. 20 UH beats Auburn in Birmingham Bowl, capping off 12-win season
For the third time in program history, Houston finished a season with at least 12 wins as the Cougars defeated Auburn 17-13 in the 2021 Birmingham Bowl on Tuesday afternoon at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama.
Clayton Tune wasted no time getting into rhythm, completing seven passes for 74 yards on the game’s opening possession capped off by a 5-yard touchdown pass to freshman running back Alton McCaskill.
Tune connected with his favorite target, sophomore receiver Nathaniel Dell, four times for 56 yards in key situations to keep the drive going.
The UH defense got the better of the Auburn offense in the first half, forcing the Tigers to a three-and-out on their first two possessions followed by a fourth-down stop to force a turnover on downs on Auburn’s third drive.
Senior kicker Dalton Witherspoon made it a 10-0 game midway through the second quarter after connecting on a 52-yard field goal.
Auburn’s lone scoring drive of the first half came late in the second quarter as a 51-yard catch and run by Tank Bigsby set up a Ben Patton field goal.
Patton connected from 35 yards out on Auburn’s first drive of the second half to make it 10-6 minutes into the third quarter.
After stopping the Cougars on their opening possession of the second half, the Tigers took their first lead of the afternoon on the ensuing drive as Auburn quarterback T.J. Finley found receiver Kobe Hudson for a 12-yard touchdown.
Things turned from bad to worse for the Cougars on their next drive as Tune overthrew Dell and was picked off by Auburn’s Nehemiah Pritchett, who returned the interception deep into UH territory before a targeting penalty on Auburn safety Smoke Monday for a hit during the return negated the yardage gained.
Despite Auburn seizing all the momentum, the UH defense stood up to the challenge, getting stop after stop to give the Cougars’ offense a chance to put points on the board to tie or retake the lead.
After squandering opportunity after opportunity, the UH offense finally capitalized with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. After a few big passing plays to get into Auburn territory, Tune lofted up a ball to senior receiver Jake Herslow who walked into the endzone to put the Cougars up 17-13.
Just like they have done all season, the Cougars’ defense came up big one final time by forcing Auburn to turn the ball over on downs to seal the 17-13 victory.
Tune finished with 283 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Dell hauled in 10 receptions for 150 yards.