NEW ORLEANS (AP) Greg Ward Jr. ran for three touchdowns and threw a scoring pass to help No. 24 Houston beat Tulane 42-7 on Friday night.
Playing as a ranked team for the first time since 2011, the Cougars (6-0, 3-0 American Athletic) won by at least 21 points for the fourth time this season. Houston took a half-game lead over Memphis and Navy in the conference's West Division.
Despite three starting offensive linemen sitting out with injuries, Houston piled up 461 total yards, including 239 on the ground, and went 7 of 15 on third down. Ward completed 17 of 25 passes for 222 yards and had 14 carries for 77 yards.
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Houston held Tulane (2-4, 1-2) to 262 total yards and forced 11 punts. Devin Powell completed 11 of 28 passes for 88 yards. He got the start for the Green Wave with Tanner Lee out after sustained a concussion a week ago against Temple.
Houston's sixth-ranked offense took just one offensive play to score. Chance Allen ran past a stumbling defensive back and Ward lofted a pass that hit the receiver in stride for a 49-yard touchdown strike.
Ward put the Cougars up 14-0 on the first play of the second quarter with a 12-yard run. Tulane's Nico Marley was called for roughing the passer on a third-and-14 play to keep the drive alive.
Tulane answered with Dontrell Hilliard's 3-yard touchdown run on a drive that featured Rob Kelley's 43-yard run on a fake punt.
Ward scored again on a 5-yard run on Houston's next drive, and Demarcus Ayers' 15-yard touchdown run on an end around made it 28-7 late in the second quarter.
Ward's third touchdown run of the game, a 2-yard scamper in the third quarter, and Ayers' 73-yard punt return capped the scoring.