Houston Knocks Off Auburn 17-13 in Birmingham Bowl

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Clayton Tune and the Houston Cougars punctuated an impressive season with a win in Southeastern Conference country.

Jake Herslow caught a 26-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass from Tune with 3:27 left to help lift No. 21 Houston to a 17-13 victory over Auburn on Tuesday in the Birmingham Bowl in front of a mostly orange-and-blue crowd at Protective Stadium.

The Cougars (12-2) marched 80 yards in eight plays to cap the third season in program history with at least 12 wins. They snapped a four-game bowl losing streak and won 12 of their final 13 games, the only loss after the opener coming to No. 4 Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said this win was similar to “some other ones that we’ve had this year.”

“Just a bunch of guys that fight hard and win,” Holgorsen said. “Basically, winning this game solidified this 2021 football team at the University of Houston as a great football team.”

The Tigers (6-7) went in the opposite direction at the end of coach Bryan Harsin’s first season. They ended with five straight losses for the first time in 71 years and dropped their third bowl game in a row.

Harsin was already looking ahead to, he hopes, better things.

“Nobody’s going to go in there and just hang their head and say, ‘Well, this is just how it is,’ ” Harsin said. “We’re going to change it. We’re going to fix it, and we’re going to get better.

“I mean, there is no Plan B. There’s Plan A, and we’re here to make this work.”

Game MVP Tune completed 26 of 40 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns with an interception while also rushing for 43 yards. Nathaniel Dell caught 10 passes for 150 yards, while Alton McCaskill ran for 66 yards and caught a touchdown pass.

“That’s kind of been our offense this whole season, is when we’ve needed to make plays we do,” Tune said. “There was no panic.”

And Herslow, who walked on after playing for Old Dominion from 2017-19, delivered the biggest catch. He’s a player Horgorsen called “one of the best stories in college football.”

Auburn, which fired offensive coordinator Mike Bobo after the regular season, had one more chance but couldn’t get a first down. Tank Bigsby ran for 8 yards on first down and then T.J. Finley threw three straight incompletions on short passes.

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