HOUSTON - Junior running back Charles Sims rushed for 158 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, and sophomore quarterback David Piland threw for 361 yards passing with a pair of scores to lead the University of Houston football team to a 35-14 win against Rice inside Reliant Stadium on Saturday.
With the win, the Cougars snapped a three-game losing skid and improved to 1-3. More importantly, Houston improved to 1-0 in Conference USA play and won their league opener for the sixth time in the last seven seasons. Rice fell to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in C-USA play.
After both teams went three-and-out on their opening possessions, the Cougars put the first points on the scoreboard. Taking over on its 35, Houston marched 65 yards and grabbed the lead when Piland hit freshman receiver Larry McDuffey on a 25-yard strike on 3rd-and-15.
The score would remain that way until late in the first half when sophomore receiver Daniel Spencer hauled in a reception, broke multiple tackles and twice put his hand on the ground to regain his balance for a 14-0 Houston advantage.
While the Cougar offense put Houston on the board, the defense was equally impressive early as Rice managed only 120 yards through the first 30 minutes. It was a Houston opponent's lowest offensive output in the first half since the Cougars limited #22 Penn State to 115 yards at the 2012 TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 2.
Houston continued to pour on the offense in the second half but went to the rushing game. Sims burst into the end zone from three yards out early in the third quarter and broke the game open with a 47-yard scamper on the Cougars' next possession for a 28-0 Houston lead with 7:33 left.
Rice would not move within 21 points for the rest of the game. Late in the third quarter, Rice running back Sam McGuffie scored the Owls' first points after a 24-yard pass from quarterback Driphus Jackson with 4:30 left in the third.
However, the Cougars answered on the next possession early in the final period when Sims scored from 16 yards out for a 35-7 Houston lead. It was the first time in his outstanding career that Sims scored three times in a game.
McGuffie added an 88-yard touchdown reception midway through the period for the final margin of victory.
With the win, Houston won its second straight game against Rice, a first since the 2006-07 seasons. The Cougars also scored at least 31 points for the eighth consecutive game against the Owls.
While the offense was compiling impressive numbers, the Cougar defense was equally superb. With a 14-0 advantage at the break, Houston held an opponent scoreless in the opening half for the first time since leading SMU 13-0 on Nov. 19, 2011.
Rice managed only 69 rushing yards on 34 carries in the game. Freshman Trevon Stewart led all players with 11 tackles, including eight solo stops, while senior linebacker Phillip Steward posted eight tackles, including three for a loss of 29 yards.
Rice running back Charles Ross led the Owls with 52 yards on 13 carries, while Jackson paced the team with 272 yards on 17-of-35 passing and two touchdowns. McGuffie added six receptions for a game-high 119 yards in the loss.
The Cougars return to action at 6 p.m., Saturday, when they play host to North Texas on John O'Quinn Field at Robertson Stadium.