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It’s a question that needs to be asked. The Tigers almost beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl on the back of TJ Finley, who impressed and showed the future can be very bright for the Tigers.
Finley, a sophomore, completed 51-of-91 (56.0 percent) of his passes this season for an even 600 yards, five touchdowns and only one interception. The worry is if he will be well protected enough, with Brodarious Hamm (the Tigers starting right tackle) having opted out of the contest.
That said, the Tigers are expected (though it could change) to have their main man in the backfield in the bowling-ball style running back that is Tank Bigsby. Bigsby was phenomenal last year as a freshman and took another big step forward as a sophomore – he ran 207 times for 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns.
While he was one of the better backs in the league, he was relatively bottled up in SEC play. Bigsby only had two games when he rushed for more than 70 yards (putting up 140 vs. Ole Miss and 164 vs. South Carolina) and he will not have the easiest of tasks in this one.
He will be running against a Cougars defense that ranked No. 13 in the nation in rushing defense, giving up 3.32 yards per carry and just more than 105 yards per contest.
That said, in the two games Houston played against top-tier teams, it was somewhat gashed on the ground, giving up a combined 6.3 yards per rush each game.
It’s a little weird, trying to understand Houston’s offense. The Cougars are very efficient at scoring – they ranked No. 14 in scoring offense (37.3 points per game) but barely ranks in the top 60 in total offense (58th) and yards per play (59th).
The reason for the gap is because Houston LOVES to control the ball – they rank sixth in time of possession (33 minutes and 52 seconds) per game. On top of that, they’re efficient – converting touchdowns 70 percent of the time in the red zone.
However, much like with the offense, this strategy hasn’t worked perfectly against the best defenses – they ran 47 times and averaged just 1.8 yards per rush.
All of this said, Houston does have many talented players on offense. Junior quarterback Clayton Tune completed 68.5 percent of his passes this year, finishing 17th in the country with 3,263 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
His favorite target, Nathaniel Dell, finished in the top 15 in the country with 1,179 receiving yards and had a team-high 12 touchdowns.
It would have been a good matchup to see Dell go against first-team all SEC defensive back Roger McCreary, but he opted out of the game, as did second-team All-SEC linebacker Zakoby McClain.
The X-factor for Auburn is special teams. Kicker Anders Carlson had ACL surgery last month and is clearly sidelined for the game. Now, it’s on sophomore Ben Patton, who’s done reasonably well given the circumstances.
Patton is 3-of-4 on field goals – missing a chip shot from 25 yards in his first game, but he did hit from 49 yards against Alabama. So, all told, Auburn could feel okay about its kicking prospects.
The x-factor for Houston is its run game. That’s how the Cougars control the clock, with Alton McCaskill. The freshman showed he will be a problem in the league for years to come, rushing 175 times for 883 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns.
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|Auburn Tigers vs Houston Cougars Information|
|Teams||Auburn Tigers vs. Houston Cougars|
|Location||Protective Stadium, Birmingham, AL|
|Time||Tuesday, Dec. 28,12:00 p.m. EST|
|How to watch||ESPN|
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Tony writes about baseball for WSN.com after recently graduating with his Masters from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Tony was a local sports reporter for MLive Media Group, based out of Jackson, Michigan where he covered everything from high school to professional sports. He graduated from Michigan State in 2015 with a degree in journalism. During his time there he covered the Michigan State football and men’s basketball teams from 2013-15 and hosted a sports radio show on WDBM 89FM.More info on Tony Garcia
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