Auburn vs. Houston: What you need to know about the Tigers' Birmingham Bowl opponent
It’s understandable if Auburn fans don’t know much about Houston. The Cougars aren’t exactly a household name.
Therefore, when Auburn’s matchup against Houston was announced on Sunday, many Tiger fans were probably a bit curious who their team would be playing in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 28.
It’s not the most prestigious bowl and Auburn was surely hoping for more, especially in the middle of the season when the Tigers were rolling. Now that those dreams have come crashing down, a win over Houston would end the season on a far better note. Beating the Cougars would mean a winning season for the Tigers, who are 6-6. A loss would give the Tigers their first losing season since 2012, when Gene Chizik was fired after a 3-9 campaign.
SEC teams are used to playing lesser opponents in lower-level bowl games. That’s not the case with Auburn’s matchup against Houston. The Tigers will face Houston after the Cougars went 11-2 and played for the AAC championship against Cincinnati, which just made the Playoff.
Here are 5 things to know about Auburn’s upcoming bowl opponent:
Houston has a familiar head coach
While most may not be familiar with Houston, the Cougars’ head coach Dana Holgorsen should jar your memory. Holgorsen was the head coach at West Virginia before leaving to head up Houston’s coaching staff. Holgorsen has a career record of 79-56 with an impressive résumé. Holgorsen has coached for former Kentucky coach Hal Mumme, Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. What do all of those have in common? First, they’ve had success, so they should have been solid mentors to Holgorsen. Second, they all like to pass the ball. So does Holgorsen. Houston finished 3rd in the AAC with 30 TD passes this season.
Houston’s defense can play
Even though you might think of offense first with Houston, the Cougars can play defense. Houston is only allowing 21 points per game, which ranks No. 2 in the AAC and 21st in America. They lead the AAC in rushing defense (106.92 yards per game) and are 3rd against the pass (191.5 yards per game. No one will confuse Houston’s defense as great. However, they can defend well enough to cause concern for Auburn’s coaching staff, which has an unsettled situation at quarterback.
Don’t be too surprised if Tank Bigsby has a big day.
Finding success in the run was the common theme to both of Houston’s losses this season.
Texas Tech ran for 145 yards and 3 TDs in a 38-21 victory in Week 1.
Cincinnati ran for 210 yards and 2 TDs in the AAC Championship Game on Sunday.
In between, Houston won consecutive 11 games primarily by shutting down running games. Only 1 of those 11 opponents topped 130 yards rushing — and that was run-exclusive Navy (202 yards on 55 attempts). It held 7 of those opponents to fewer than 100 yards.
Auburn’s key will be simple: Get Bigsby going. If he goes, Auburn will go, too.
Houston knows how to carry a Tune
Houston’s offense is led by quarterback Clayton Tune from Carrolton, Texas. You may not know Tune’s name, but you should. Tune finished the season in passer rating in the AAC to Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati. Tune’s 160.38 passer rating is 12th-best in the nation. He’s the type of player who can make things difficult on Auburn if it can’t get pressure with its strong defensive front. Tune has flown under the radar for most of his career. He was just a 3-star prospect and chose the Cougars over Kansas, Ole Miss and Florida.
Nathaniel Dell is a problem
OK, so Dell (pictured above) is not Jameson Williams.
But he certainly is Houston’s version of that.
Dell led the AAC in receiving yards (1,179) and TD receptions (11). At 5-10, 155 pounds, he’s the classic undersized overachiever who ends up on AAC rosters.
He didn’t merely beat up on cupcakes, either. He had 7 catches for 80 yards and a TD against Texas Tech and then turned in his best performance Saturday against Cincinnati, registering 9 catches for 152 yards and another TD.