Houston vs. Auburn Odds, Pick, Prediction: Does Total Still Have Value in 2021 Birmingham Bowl?
Leslie Plaza Johnson and Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured, from left: Houston Cougars cornerback Art Green (23) and Auburn Tigers linebacker Chandler Wooten (31).
- Betting action continues to move the Houston-Auburn line for the 2021 Birmingham Bowl, as the Cougars have gone from +2 to -1.5 at FanDuel Sportsbook in the last two hours.
- The total also continues to fall across the market -- a full point from 51.5 to 50.5 over the last hour at FanDuel. It's dropped to 50 at other sportsbooks.
- Collin Wilson expects a low-scoring game and is playing the under at 51 or better.
Updated Houston vs. Auburn Odds
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110ou
There is no shortage of motivation for both teams participating in the 15th edition of the Birmingham Bowl.
Auburn ended the season with four straight losses, the firing of an offensive coordinator and the transfer of quarterback Bo Nix.
The first season of the Bryan Harsin area has had plenty of hurdles, from a quick firing of a wide receivers coach to preaching the need for more balance between the run and pass game. Harsin made it clear that the extra practices are great, but the ultimate goal is to beat Houston.
Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen has one of the worst records against the spread in bowl games, supporting a 1-7 mark through his career.
The Cougars will be without one of the best players in college football, as Marcus Jones has opted out for the 2022 NFL Draft. The cornerback is the highest-graded coverage defender on the Houston squad and the second-best kick returner in FBS, per PFF.
Holgorsen knows winning the bowl game is tied to a disciplined defense, as he has spent his time on the recruiting trail focusing on pieces for the 4-2-5 scheme rather than the Air Raid offense.
Holgorsen prides himself on the strides the defense has made since his arrival in Houston.
Defensive coordinator Doug Belk runs a 4-2-5 in standard downs and true dime package of 4-1-6 in passing downs. The results have contributed to an 11-2 record with top-20 defensive ranks in coverage, Havoc and Passing Downs Sack Rate.
The sack numbers show how solid the defensive line play has been this season, as the Cougars blitz on just 21% of snaps.
Logan Hall gets the sack on Desmond Ridder on 3rd down! #Houstonpic.twitter.com/QEmCtlFE4N
— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTB_Vids_YT) December 4, 2021
While the defense looks to flex against fresh faces on the Auburn offensive line, the Cougars offense has had struggles in maintaining a balanced attack.
Alton McCaskill and Ta’Zhawn Henry combine for 23 touchdowns but average 2.6 yards after contact. With a low rating in elusiveness and forced missed tackles, the Houston offensive line has struggled, ranking outside the top 100 in Havoc Allowed, Line Yards, Stuff Rate and Standard Downs Sack Rate.
A rank of 86th in Standard Downs Success Rate often leaves quarterback Clayton Tune behind schedule. Houston averages 7.9 yards to go on third downs, one of the 12 worst offenses in FBS.
COOG NATION Houston Cougar Football QB1 Clayton Tune dime to @uhcougarfb Nathaniel Dell, nine plays to go 47 yards for the 13 yard TD! #3rdWard#GoCoogspic.twitter.com/OLJHb22eU7
— Coog Nation (@CoogNation247) November 27, 2021
The key to Houston’s offensive attack is finding wide receiver Nathaniel Dell, who has 125 targets on the season. No other player on the Cougars roster has more than 47 targets, even with three different personnel groupings in 11, 12 and 20.
Houston ranks fourth in the nation in passing downs explosiveness, a true test for an Auburn defense that is down its best coverage defender.
The rumors of Tank Bigsby transferring from Auburn were not true, according to the running back. Although Auburn’s leading rusher had a close friendship with Nix, there was never any consideration in leaving Auburn.
In his second season, Bigsby posted a lower yards-after-contact mark and missed tackles rate in comparison to 2020.
Those issues may not improve for the bowl, as three offensive line starters are not available. Both tackle Brodarious Hamm and center Nick Brahms are having surgery, while guard Tashawn Manning has transferred to Kentucky. Both Brahms and Hamm played over 800 snaps at the center and tackle positions, respectively.
Keiondre Jones, Brodarius Hamm and Luke Deal blocking their butts off on this Tank Bigsby touchdown run. pic.twitter.com/pzskrTA3YY
— Justin Hokanson (@_JHokanson) September 21, 2021
Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter are expected to get the load of carries behind a new offensive line with Harsin heavily involved in play-calling. The ability to out-physical Houston in the trench was key for the Auburn coach.
From the advanced stats, the Auburn offense and Houston defense have a similar Stuff Rate rank, but the Cougars’ rank of seventh in Line Yards indicates Auburn may go to the air behind quarterback TJ Finley.
The Tigers will be without their best player in cornerback Roger McCreary, who has opted out for NFL Draft preparations. Of the 28 pass breakups recorded for Auburn, McCreary owns 13 of them. Cornerback is a shallow position in terms of experience for Auburn, with only two other players logging more than 80 snaps at the position.
The focus of the Houston offense will be on the secondary, as the Tigers are top-20 in Defensive Rushing Success Rate and Stuff Rate. Auburn flips between a 3-3-5 and 4-2-5 with a 25% blitz rate.
Making up for McCreary’s absence is the No. 1 priority for defensive coordinator Derek Mason.
Houston vs. Auburn Matchup Analysis
Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Houston and Auburn match up statistically:
Houston Offense vs. Auburn Defense
|** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)|
Auburn Offense vs. Houston Defense
|** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)|
Pace of Play / Other
|SP+ Special Teams||77||47|
|Plays per Minute||114||40|
|Rush Rate||54.% (73)||49.8% (97)|
Houston vs. Auburn Betting Pick
There is a new stadium for the bowl game, as Protective Stadium was completed earlier this season for the UAB football game. The 47,000-plus seat stadium is expected to be packed with Auburn fans as the north-south orientation keeps the sun out of players’ eyes on the field turf surface.
Mother Nature is expected to play a role in the bowl, with a small chance of rain and double-digit winds expected.
Getting ready to watch the 3A, 1A, and 5A State Championships at Protective Stadium! pic.twitter.com/p1YhLgxX3y
— Chris McCreless (@chris_mccreless) December 2, 2021
The handicap centers around each of the defenses.
Will the Houston front seven force Auburn into passing downs, and will the Tigers have an answer in the secondary for the Cougars’ passing attack?
Auburn’s rush attack may feature three new offensive linemen, but Houston was exposed in the AAC Championship against Cincinnati. The Bearcats were stuffed below the national average on rushing attempts and averaged 8.2 yards per carry.
Cincinnati and Auburn have similar Offensive Stuff Rate metrics, indicating the new offensive linemen may find success against the Cougars’ front.
Containing Dell in passing downs will be the primary focus for Auburn’s 4-2-5, although containing explosiveness has been a strong area for the Tigers. The defensive front seven is 10th in Line Yards and 15th in tackles for loss, leaving no doubt Tune will continue to find himself in long third-down distances.
In its final game of the season, Auburn posted seven sacks on Heisman winner Bryce Young and broke up seven passes. The pass breakups are the most impressive, considering McCreary was targeted just once in the game.
The Action Network projection has Auburn -3 with a total of 49.5. The current number would indicate value on a Tigers team that has the unofficial home-field advantage.
Auburn’s execution in the run game is vital to keeping Finley out of long downs and distances. Finley has not posted a big-time throw since Week 6 against Georgia. For Houston, the rushing attack has been stuffed 8% higher than the national average.
The Tune-to-Dell connection will be the primary source of first downs and points on the board. Houston has the better ranks in Finishing Drives on both sides of the ball and a tempo of 114th in the nation.
Look for the Auburn secondary to mix up the 4-2-5 coverage and get in the backfield often. With a market number above the projection, taking the under to the key number of 51 is the best bet.
Pick: Under 51 or Better
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