No. 3 Cardinals look to handle Houston, boost playoff hopes

HOUSTON (AP) Last season, Houston outlasted Louisville 34-31 thanks in part to miscues by Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson in his first career start.

Things have changed.

Jackson is now the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and has No. 3 Louisville (9-1) in the hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoff as the Cardinals visit Houston on Thursday night .

Jackson threw for 168 yards and a touchdown against the Cougars last season. But also tossed two interceptions, and a late touchdown pass by Greg Ward helped Houston to the victory.

''We're a much different team than we were last year,'' Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. ''Right then we were trying to even find out who we are and what we were doing and everything was new to Lamar when he was out there ... just understanding the difference between high school football and college football. So I don't think last year's game will play into this game at all.''

This season, Jackson has thrown for 2,898 yards and 27 touchdowns. He has added 1,334 yards rushing and leads the nation with 19 rushing touchdowns.

His performance has helped the Cardinals rise to No. 5 in the CFP rankings with two games remaining. But Petrino insists that they aren't overly concerned with the rankings and are instead focused on the Cougars.

''They just have to understand that they need to go out and play well, and play the type of football we are capable of playing,'' Petrino said. ''Really, that's what we need to do our last two games, and then whatever happens, happens. We can't control any of that.''

The Cougars (8-2) will counter with Ward, their dual-threat quarterback. He has 2,608 yards passing with 16 touchdowns and 429 yards rushing and nine more scores. Coach Tom Herman said he'll play on Thursday despite leaving Saturday's game against Tulane after aggravating a shoulder injury he's been dealing with for several weeks and being bothered by an ankle injury.

''He is pretty banged up, as he has been most of the year,'' Herman said. ''He still gets treatment three times a day on his ankle that really slowed him down in the SMU game and in that stretch in October ... (but) he's going to play.''

Some things to know about the Louisville-Houston game:

STREAKING

The Cougars have the second-longest home winning streak in the nation at 14 games. They haven't lost at home since a 31-24 defeat by Tulane on Nov. 8, 2014. They have won five straight games over Top 25 teams and opened their 2016 campaign with a 33-23 win over then-No. 3 Oklahoma.

THE `OTHER' BACK

Somewhat overshadowed by Jackson's running success is senior RB Brandon Radcliff, whose 141-yard, three-TD effort helped ignite Louisville's comeback over Wake Forest last week. His first 100-yard performance in six games gave him 768 for the season and an outside chance at giving the Cardinals their first pair of 1,000-yard rushers.

BACKING UP WARD

Ward will have a new backup on Thursday after Kyle Postma broke his arm last week. Postma had surgery to insert a plate and screws in his arm on Monday, leaving D'Eriq King to back up Ward for the rest of the season. The freshman was a high school quarterback, but has appeared in 10 games with four starts at receiver this season. He has 228 yards receiving and a touchdown.

NOTHING DOING

Louisville's defense has stiffened since losing to Clemson, yielding of average of just 14.2 points and under 246.4 yards in five games. The Cardinals held Wake Forest to 214 yards - just 37 in the second half - and rank sixth nationally in total defense at 285.2 yards per contest.

BACK AND FEELING GOOD

Houston LB Tyus Bowser had a career-high 11 tackles, included a career-best three sacks last week against Tulane in his return from injury. Bowser had missed the previous five games after a scuffle with teammate Matthew Adams left Bowser with a facial fracture.

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AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves contributed to this report.

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