Auburn has now done something that rarely has happened in the history of Tiger football, as today’s 17-13 loss to Houston in the Birmingham Bowl gave Bryan Harsin a five-game losing streak to finish up 2021. This last happened in 2012, 1999, and it’s something that not even Doug Barfield managed to accomplish.
The Tigers’ last win came over Ole Miss just before Halloween, and Auburn controlled its SEC destiny at that point before the wheels came off. Still, Auburn led in every game during that stretch aside from the loss at Texas A&M, and had chances to win each and every one. In the end, you can point to many things, but coaching will take most of the blame in that regard.
Auburn finished the year at 6-7, the first losing season since that fateful 2021 campaign that got Gene Chizik fired. Houston concludes their season at 12-2. This game washed out very similarly on the stat sheet, but a few miscues by Auburn served to turn things in favor of Houston. T.J. Finley played inconsistently, missing two wide open touchdown passes and assorted other throws, while also hitting some absolute gems. Meanwhile, one huge momentum swing came after an interception and long return was negated by a targeting penalty on Smoke Monday. Auburn played in front of a partisan crowd but couldn’t string together a consistent enough effort to overcome a fairly steady Houston team.
The Cougars, led by Dana Holgorsen, struck first on the opening drive of the game, driving 87 yards in 12 plays to capitalize on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Clayton Tune to Alton McCaskill. Auburn would go three and out on its first two possessions and fail on downs on the third. Meanwhile, the Tiger defense started to dig in. After allowing a field goal on the fourth drive of the game for Houston, Auburn hung tough and stymied the Cougar attack. It was during this time that the Tigers also started to move the ball a bit.
On Auburn’s first drive of the second quarter, the Tigers got a 51-yard completion from Finley to Tank Bigsby on a little screen, but they bogged down in the red zone and settled for a short field goal from Ben Patton. The two teams traded punts after that and went into the halftime locker room with Houston ahead 10-3.
The Tigers got the ball to start the second half, and Tank Bigsby went back to work, rumbling for 15 and 32 yards on two straight plays to put Auburn in prime position. However, the Houston defense (fantastic in red zone situations this season) held again and forced another field goal. Patton nailed it and Auburn cut the deficit to a 10-6 Cougar lead. After a Houston punt, Auburn went back to work, starting at their own 22-yard line.
On second down, Finley found John Samuel Shenker for 41 yards to the Houston 33. Four plays later, the Tigers converted a fourth down on a sweep from Ja’Varrius Johnson, and and then a completion to Johnson moved the Tigers into the red zone. On 3rd and goal from the Houston 12, Finley lofted a pass for Kobe Hudson in the right corner of the end zone, and Hudson made a toe-tapping catch to secure Auburn’s first touchdown of the game. The Tigers led 13-10 after the extra point with a little less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Auburn had an opportunity to clinch the game over the next few drives, as Clayton Tune threw an interception to Nehemiah Pritchett on the next possession. Pritchett returned the pick deep into Houston territory, but a targeting penalty on Smoke Monday on the return negated the yardage and set Auburn back out of scoring position. Instead of tacking on some insurance points, Auburn settled for a punt from no man’s land and gave the ball back to the Cougars leading 13-10.
On Houston’s next possession, Auburn once again had a chance to seal a win, as they were able to stop Tune on a fourth down scramble and regain possession. However, the Tigers were only able to run five plays before punting. Still, Houston seemed determined to give this game away as Holgorsen called for a trick play that went disastrously on the Cougars’ next drive. Tune threw a lateral to Seth Green, who then tossed it all the way back across the field to Tune, but Chandler Wooten leapt in and picked off the pass for Auburn’s second interception of the game.
After a review, the Tigers were given possession in Houston territory, and on first down T.J. Finley missed a wide open Tarvarish Dawson streaking down the sideline for what would have been the clinching score. Auburn failed to run more than a minute off the clock and punted back to the Cougars, where Tune then drove 80 yards in 8 plays for the winning score. With 3L27 left, he found Jake Herslow for 26 yards down the right sideline to put the Cougars on top 17-13 and give Auburn one final chance.
The Tigers would get three incomplete passes on second, third, and fourth downs, and give the ball right back to Houston, who ended the game with one first down run.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Tank Bigsby - RB - 16 carries, 96 yards; 5 catches, 68 yards - Bigsby was his usual self, inflicting pain on the defense and running swift and hard, but he wasn’t used in the most necessary of situations, highlighting the struggles that we as fans have endured all season long.
Chandler Wooten - LB - 12 tackles, 1 INT, 0.5 TFLs - Wooten played without both Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe in his linebacker group, and pretty much did the job of both of them in their absence. He was all over the place, ending two drives with a fourth down tackle and an interception, and he was a vocal leader all game long.
WELL. You get to wait about 8 months for the next game, which will come when Mercer visits Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 3rd. In the meantime, get excited about Auburn basketball.