The Auburn defense held Houston to its season-low in points on Tuesday, but it wasn’t enough as the Cougars took a late lead to win the Ticketsmarter Birmingham Bowl.
Houston quarterback Clayton Tune found tight end Jake Herslow open for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 3:27 left in the game and No. 20-ranked Houston beat Auburn, 17-13. The loss is Auburn’s fifth-straight loss to end the season.
Auburn’s offense saw moderate success in the game as they tallied up 344 total yards, but the Tigers (6-7) scored only 13 points in four red zone trips and only found the end zone once in the game.
“Congratulations to Houston,” Auburn coach Brian Harsin said. “They’re a good football team and those guys played well today. In football, it does come down to execution and we need to be better in that area.”
Houston’s offense started its first drive of the game at its own 13-yard line, and the Cougars wasted no time running down the field. Houston capped off a 12-play, 87-yard drive with a touchdown pass from Tune to running back Alton McCaskill.
Following two 3-and-outs and a turnover on downs from the Auburn offense, Houston went up 10-0 on a Dalton Witherspoon 52-yard field goal with 6:58 remaining in the first half.
Auburn was able to cut the lead to 7 points, 10-3, on a 27-yard field goal by Ben Patton, but went into the halftime break down a touchdown.
Out of the half, Patton made a 35-yard field goal to cut the lead to three points, then Auburn quarterback TJ Finley hit Kobe Hudson for a 12-yard touchdown pass with 3:52 left in the third quarter to give Auburn its first lead of the game, 13-10.
Following Auburn’s touchdown to take the lead, Auburn’s defense forced Houston’s offense to two interceptions and a turnover on downs on three consecutive drives.
Auburn’s offense was unable to capitalize on the three turnovers, however, and punted each of the three times. The Tigers only mustered up 12 plays for 49 yards on the three drives combined.
“You need to finish games,” Harsin said of the offense in the fourth quarter. “When they put points on the board, you have to be able to drive down and execute your drive. We had our opportunities. It all comes down to the execution of it.”
Following the third consecutive Auburn punt in the fourth quarter, Houston started its drive at its own 20-yard line with just over six minutes to play in the game. The Cougars then drove 80 yards in 8 plays and scored on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Tune to Herslow to put Houston up, 17-13.
Auburn got the ball back with a chance to drive back down the field and win the game, but the Tigers turned the ball over after gaining only eight yards. Tank Bigsby rushed for a gain of eight on the first play of the drive, then Finley threw three straight incomplete passes and turned the ball over on downs.
Houston was able to get one timeout and ran the clock out the rest of the way.