NEW ORLEANS – Houston looks to get off to a strong start in American Athletic Conference play after suffering two losses against ranked teams while Tulane hopes to make a statement when they meet Thursday night in New Orleans. The Cougars opened with an 18-point loss to No. 4 Oklahoma and were beaten by No. 19 Washington State 31-24 on Sept. 13, when Houston's senior quarterback D'Eriq King accounted for three touchdowns.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Tulane -4.5
"We're looking at it as a must-win (game)," King, who threw for 36 touchdowns and ran for 14 last year, told reporters. "First conference game, Tulane's a pretty good team and they have a lot of momentum right now. We have to go out there and take care of business." King suffered a knee injury during last year's 48-17 victory - Tulane's only loss in its last six games of 2018 - and the Green Wave have won two of their first three this season after rolling to a 58-6 triumph over Missouri State on Saturday as most of the regulars were rested in the second half. "It was good that we could get off of our feet early and rest because they played (Friday), so they're a day ahead of us," Tulane senior wide receiver Darnell Mooney told reporters. The Green Wave are optimistic at their chances to be in the middle of the race for a spot in the AAC title game and must get a big performance Thursday from an offense that boasts plenty of experienced weapons, led by Mooney (2,042 career receiving yards) and senior quarterback Justin McMillan (7-2 as a starter).
ABOUT HOUSTON (1-2, 0-0 AAC)
King boasts four touchdown passes and one interception while rushing 196 yards and another five scores to lead the Cougars, who are averaging 30.7 points. Junior Kyle Porter leads the ground attack with 213 yards to go with a touchdown and King has two prime receiving targets in senior Keith Corbin (eight catches, 144 yards, one TD) along with junior Marquez Stevenson (15, 139, two), who had 1,019 yards in 2018. The Cougars lost junior linebacker Jordan Carmouche (shoulder) for the season and sophomore linebacker Zamar Kirven stepped up to make a career-high eight tackles against Washington State.
ABOUT TULANE (2-1, 0-0)
McMillan, who lost his only starts against Houston last year and No. 9 Auburn 24-6 on Sept. 7, has thrown for 424 yards and a pair of scoring strikes while rushing for another 154 and three TDs. The Green Wave have plenty of threats on the ground with five players registering at least 96 yards, led by seniors Darius Bradwell (142) and Corey Dauphine (131, two TDs). Freshman Tyjae Spears had 89 yards rushing and an 88-yard TD reception in last week's win with McMillan telling reporters: "It's what I see from him every day. … It doesn't shock me one bit to see him score touchdowns like that or get long runs like that because he works his butt off every day."
1. Mooney, who has 12 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown this year, boasts at least one reception in 22 straight contests.
2. The Cougars have recorded at least one takeaway in each of their last 20 games, the longest active streak in the nation.
3. Houston, which received 139 rushing yards from current senior RB Patrick Carr against Tulane last season, is 17-6 all-time in the series.
PREDICTION: Tulane 38, Houston 31