Tulsa at Houston

This week’s Thursday night ESPN game comes out of the American Athletic Conference with a West division battle between Tulsa and Houston. The Golden Hurricane fared poorly on Thursday night two weeks ago in their first conference game while this is the AAC opener for Houston. Here is a look at Thursday’s game to start college football Week 6.
Match-up: Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Houston Cougars
Venue: At TDECU Stadium in Houston, Texas
Time/TV: Thursday, October 4, 8:00 PM ET ESPN
Line: Houston -18, Over/Under 68½
Last Meeting: 2017, at Tulsa (+14) 45, Houston 17
Houston won the inaugural AAC Championship game in 2015 and grabbed headlines nationally in 2016 with a pair of high profile upsets. That success let to Tom Herman being hired in Austin and last season former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite guided Houston to a 7-5 record in his first season as head coach.
Four of the five losses for Houston came in single score games but the one exception was a blowout loss at Tulsa, losing by 28 as a two-touchdown favorite. This season Houston is 3-1 with a notable win over Arizona while the loss came by 14 at Texas Tech. This will be the first game of the AAC season for the Cougars who figure to be the favorites in the West division with last season’s champion Memphis already 0-2 in league play.
Houston struggled to find a quarterback early last season but D’Eriq King emerged in late October, keying the upset over South Florida and finishing the season with solid results in the air and on the ground. Now a junior King has rushed less successfully and has a lower completion rate than last season but with 15 touchdowns and just one interception he has been a great leader with the offense scoring at least 45 points in every game.
Houston has rushed for over 1,000 yards in four games on 6.4 yards per carry with a committee approach as Patrick Carr leads the team with only 201 rushing yards and King leads the team with five rushing touchdowns.
Houston also has one of the highest profile defensive players in the nation with Ed Oliver a projected 1st round NFL pick next spring. Houston hasn’t had great defensive numbers this season allowing over 30 points per game after surrendering fewer than 24 points per game last season.
After a two-win 2017 season, Tulsa is expected to be an improved team with a shot at making the postseason. The 1-3 start has featured three losses in a row all against quality competition falling to Texas, Arkansas State, and opening the conference season with a 31-17 loss at Temple two weeks ago. Tulsa out-gained Temple by more than 100 yards in that game but had five turnovers including allowing two defensive touchdowns.
Luke Skipper split time at quarterback last season and has led the offense in all four games this year. He has marginal numbers with six interceptions and just 6.2 yards per attempt. Chad President is still on the roster but has only seen a few snaps this season after sharing the load last season for Philip Montgomery, in his fourth season as the head coach at Tulsa.
Montgomery led Tulsa to a bowl game in his first season and then produced a 10-win 2016 season before reversing course last year. Montgomery was an assistant at Houston from 2003 to 2007 before being the offensive coordinator at Baylor from 2008 to 2014 as a long-time assistant to Art Briles.
Houston is on the road the next two weeks making this home date an important one looking to take the division lead with only SMU and Tulane currently in the AAC West without a conference loss. Both of those teams are underdogs this week and will face off the following week as Houston is in a great position to move to the top of the standings.
Without producing an upset in the first month Tulsa could find itself needing a spectacular late season to reach six wins and earn a bowl bid. A 1-6 start looks realistic at this point hosting South Florida next week before a non-conference game at Arkansas. Road games at Memphis and at Navy will still be waiting in November as while Tulsa looked like a team that could take a positive step forward this season the path looks challenging. Upsetting Houston this week could change that trajectory.
Last season: Houston was 4-1 heading to Tulsa with the Hurricane 1-5 at the time and coming off a 62-28 loss at Tulane. It wasn’t a surprise when the Cougars took a 10-0 early lead but out of halftime Tulsa was a different team, feeding off of a big turnover to produce 17 points in the third quarter. Houston would get back within seven before Skipper hit a 70 yard pass play to seal the win for the Hurricane. Tulsa added two touchdowns in the final minute for a more convincing result than they deserved and it may be something the Houston players remember.
Historical Trends: Houston is on a 42-31-1 run in home games since 2006 including a 6-2 ATS start under Applewhite including 3-0 as a double-digit home favorite. Tulsa has covered in six of the past eight meetings between these schools going back to 2009 including covering in each of the last four meetings in Houston. Tulsa is on a 22-11 ATS run as a double-digit underdog since 2010 with seven S/U upsets, going 12-4 ATS in that role since 2015 under Montgomery.