HOUSTON — Kellen Clemens threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns, and his 43-yard scramble set up the go-ahead score in Oregon's 38-24 victory over Houston on Thursday night.
With Oregon down 21-20 early in the third quarter, Clemens made his long dash to the 1-yard line, where his backup Dennis Dixon dove in for the TD a play later.
It was a successful debut for Oregon's spread offense, installed in the offseason by new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. It was also step one in the Ducks' quest to bounce back from last year's 5-6 season — their first losing season since 1993. Clemens was 30-of-47 with no interceptions, and 72 yards rushing. Demetrius Williams had nine receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown and James Finley made 10 catches for 95 yards.
Houston controlled the game early, scoring 21 points in the first quarter, but failed to score again until a field goal with just three seconds remaining.
By then virtually the only Houston supporters left in cavernous Reliant Stadium were members of the school's band.
Oregon scored just one touchdown in the first half but kicker Paul Martinez kept it close by booting three field goals, including a 51-yarder early in the second quarter.
Houston led 21-17 at halftime and the fourth field goal by Martinez early in the third got Oregon to within one point. He finished with five field goals to tie a school record.
Houston's new 3-4 defense looked OK early, forcing the Ducks to a three-and-out on the game's first series. It only went downhill from there as Oregon was able to roll up 554 yards of offense.
Oregon got a first look at heralded running back recruit Jonathan Stewart, a 5-foot-11, 228-pound player who rushed for 7,755 yards in high school.
His first action came early in the second quarter. That series was largely uneventful as he had no carries and often looked confused and missed blocks. He looked better on the second, carrying for two first downs on short yardage situations.
He adjusted to the game by the fourth quarter when he carried about five Houston defenders more than 10 yards at the end of a 33-yard run. Stewart finished with five carries for 47 yards.
Houston's Kevin Kolb threw for 312 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw two interceptions. He had several dazzling plays in the first half including a 70-yard touchdown pass and a 62-yard TD to Anthony Alridge on the last play of the first quarter.
The touchdown was sophomore Alridge's first career reception and pushed Kolb's career passing numbers to more than 6,000 yards.
SOUTH CAROLINA 24, UCF 15: At Columbia, S.C., South Carolina had as many fumbles as touchdowns and needed its defense to save victory over an opponent that came in with the country's longest losing streak.
Surely, Steve Spurrier dreamed of a flashier return to college football than the Gamecocks' 24-15 win over Central Florida. The Gamecocks (1-0) overcame three fumbles and got a fourth-and-goal stop from the 1 late in the game to send Spurrier out a winner.
The Golden Knights (0-1) dropped their 16th straight game.
The sold-out crowd of 82,753 at Williams-Brice Stadium couldn't wait to see their newest hero take the sidelines. They packed the State Fairgrounds across from the stadium hours before kickoff and even cheered loudly in the middle of the pre-game prayer when Spurrier's name was mentioned.
Spurrier felt as if he'd never been away from the college game. "Chucked a few deep, hit some, missed some," he said.
But this was far from the scoring machine Spurrier built over 12 seasons at Florida.
Spurrier has said the Gamecocks are a ways out from competing for an SEC title. They showed that at times against UCF.
After Mitchell drove the Gamecocks to UCF's 16, he was sacked twice and South Carolina missed a 50-yard field goal try.
On another series South Carolina moved from its 8 to UCF's 5. Again, the Gamecocks faltered in the red zone, settling for Josh Brown's 22-yard field goal.
In the third quarter when backup quarterback Antonio Heffner fumbled the snap, Spurrier slammed his papers to the ground in disgust.
And things figure to get rougher next week when the Gamecocks go to Georgia in Spurrier's first SEC game in four years. Bulldogs fans remember all too well how Florida scored a late touchdown in a 52-17 blowout in 1995 so the Gators could be the first opponent to hit the half-century mark at Sanford Stadium.
"We got to get better on defense, we got to get better on offense, we got to get better everywhere," Spurrier said. "Simple as that."
WESTERN KENTUCKY 63, WEST VIRGINIA TECH 3: At Bowling Green, Ky., Lerron Moore rushed 14 times for 138 yards and three touchdowns to lead Western Kentucky to the win over Division II West Virginia Tech. G.J. Wooldridge, Brandon Fitzgerald and Jamar Harris also ran for touchdowns for the Hilltoppers (1-0), who piled up 451 yards on the ground.
Justin Haddix completed 7-of-10 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
The Hilltoppers' defense, meanwhile, held West Virginia Tech (0-1) to 16 rushing yards on 28 carries.
Western Kentucky finished all five second-quarter drives with touchdowns and led 42-3 at halftime. Moore had two TD runs and Haddix threw scoring passes to Chris Jackson and Curtis Hamilton in the quarter.
The Hilltoppers took the second-half kickoff and Moore scored on a 28-yard run just 1:07 into the third quarter.
Western Kentucky won easily despite 16 penalties for 166 yards.
NORTHWESTERN STATE 27, LOUISIANA-MONROE 23: At Monroe, La., Davon Vinson threw three touchdown passes as Northwestern State rallied from a 23-point deficit. Vinson completed 15-of-23 passes for 230 yards, and rushed for 81 more yards.
The outcome was in doubt until late in the fourth quarter when NSU's defense, led by a pass interception by David Pittman in the end zone, helped seal the win. ULM's Steven Jyles completed 25 of 41 passes.