Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 14:01 PM
Tulane at Houston
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This week’s Thursday night ESPN game comes out of the American Athletic Conference with a West division battle between Tulane and Houston. Both teams are in a three-way tie with SMU at 4-2 on top of the division standings as the victor can remain in the mix for the division title.
Here is a look at tonight’s game to start a big mid-November college football weekend.
Match-up: Tulane Green Wave at Houston Cougars
Venue: at TDECU Stadium in Houston, Texas
Time/TV: Thursday, November 15, 8:00 PM ET ESPN
Line: Houston -10, Over/Under 67½
Last Meeting: 2017, at Tulane (+9) 20, Houston 17
The American Athletic Conference West has had three different division champions in three years and a fourth new participant to the AAC title game is possible out of the West this season. SMU, Houston, and Tulane are all tied at 4-2 with SMU having wins over both Houston and Tulane. The Mustangs have a difficult game with Memphis this Friday before heading on the road to face Tulsa next week as a loss is certainly possible to open the door for the winner of this game.
Along with Memphis, Houston was considered one of the favorites in the West riding five consecutive winning seasons even after a step-back to 7-5 last season in the first season under Major Applewhite. Houston won the inaugural AAC Championship game in 2015 and grabbed headlines nationally in 2016 with notable wins over Oklahoma and Louisville.
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 strong results in the air and on the ground. Now a junior King has big numbers, accounting for 48 touchdowns but his passing numbers are slightly down and he has six interceptions this season. He is a threat on the ground as well with 13 rushing touchdowns on 5.9 yards per carry and he ranks 6th nationally in QB Rating behind five players on College Football Playoff contending teams.
Offense hasn’t been an issue for Houston, averaging nearly 48 points per game for the fourth highest mark in the nation. The defense has really struggled however surrendering 34 points per game, including 37 points per game in AAC play. In back-to-back losses the past two weeks Houston has allowed 104 points and four straight foes have scored at least 36 points against Houston while rushing for at least 196 yards. Houston has also benefitted from not drawing UCF or Cincinnati in the East schedule draw.
Houston has one of the highest profile defensive players in the nation with Ed Oliver a projected 1st round NFL pick next spring but Oliver hasn’t played in the past three games and appears likely to be ruled out to play again this week with a lingering knee injury. Houston’s defense has allowed big rushing numbers in recent weeks including surrendering 312 rushing yards in last week’s home loss to Temple and the Cougars are coming off back-to-back double-digit defeats.
Home losses have been rare for the Houston program with a 22-3 S/U record at home since 2014 and it had been 31 games since Houston had lost a home game by more than a single score. Houston was a 27-point home favorite in a 30-18 win over Tulane at home two years ago but last season in New Orleans the Wave pulled off the upset, making this a revenge game in Houston’s final home game of the season.
Tulane started the season with a competitive overtime loss hosting Wake Forest but wound up starting the season 2-5. Three straight wins have put the Wave back in the postseason conversation in the third season for Willie Fritz with Tulane last making a bowl game in 2013. Next week’s home game with Navy will be a reasonable opportunity but Tulane has won its past two road games and could emerge as an AAC title threat with another road win this week.
Tulane runs the option and despite marginal numbers, the results have been better since making a move to Justin McMillan at quarterback. Jonathan Banks started most of last season and the senior was productive in the first seven games this season. McMillan is also a senior and played sparingly until replacing Banks in the loss at Cincinnati in early October. He didn’t play at all the next week but he has been the team’s quarterback the past three games, all wins, albeit against lighter competition than Banks faced in most of his games. McMillan had by far his best passing game last week as Tulane surprisingly threw 28 times for 372 yards to add some different wrinkles to the playbook.
Tulane has been the best defensive team in the AAC West, allowing only 23 points per game with each of the past three foes held to 18 or fewer points. Pass defense has been a strong point holding opposing quarterbacks to just over 52 percent completions and only 7.2 yards per attempt. Tulane also has allowed just 3.8 yards per rush and just 141 yards per game. Houston has only allowed 3.9 yards per rush on the season but the numbers have been heading in the wrong direction the past four weeks.
Houston’s defense will certainly be difficult to trust as a heavy favorite in any matchup though this is a Cougars team that has scored at least 41 points in five of six conference games, a figure Tulane has reached once vs. FBS competition this season. Whichever team controls the pace and avoids turnovers should have the edge and the recent scheduling has played a role in the recent opposing trajectories for these teams.
Last season: Houston trailed 13-3 at halftime at Tulane but seemed likely to pull out the win as there were missed opportunities with a fumble near midfield while also failing going for it on 4th-and-1 from the Tulane 6-yard-line early in the second quarter. On the first drive of the second half King threw an interception in the end zone but after a Tulane interception Houston scored a touchdown to close to within three by the start of the fourth quarter. On the next drive Houston went 91 yards to take the lead but Tulane answered with Banks delivering a 64-yard touchdown pass. Down three in the final minutes Houston again went for it on 4th down rather than attempting a long field goal for the tie and came up empty as Tulane held on for the upset.
-- Houston has held a strong home field edge with a 65-16 S/U and 43-33-1 ATS record since 2006 while going 4-1 S/U and 3-2 ATS at home this season.
-- Houston is on a 12-2 S/U and 11-3 ATS run in this series since 2003 though Tulane has covered in the past two trips to Houston including an upset win in 2014 as a 17-point underdog.
-- Tulane is 9-49 S/U and 27-31 ATS as a road underdog since 2008, going 5-6 ATS since 2016 under Fritz with only one S/U upset, with that win the 41-15 win at South Florida earlier this month.