Sam Stewart rushed for a career-high 132 yards and scored three touchdowns, but Rice could not hold off the big play proficiency of Southern Miss as the Golden Eagles took a 44-28 win in Hattiesburg on Saturday night.
Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens threw for a school-record 591 yards, 292 of them to Allenzae Staggers to set another school mark to hold off the Owls. The duo connected on touchdowns of 75, 81 and 93 yards, continually thwarting the Owls challenges.
Stewart, who had been missing in action since suffering an injury early the season opener at WKU, gave Rice and early 7-3 lead, combining with Tyler Stehling on a seven-yard touchdown pass with 9:03 in the second quarter. That lead was short-lived, as Mullens and Staggers combined on a 75-yard scoring strike on the first play from scrimmage after the Stewart score.
Stewart added a pair of touchdowns on the ground from 24 and 17 yards and Stehling hit Zach Wright with an 11-yard touchdown pass to close out the scoring for Rice. Stehling completed 14 of 18 passes on the night for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
While Stewart returned to action on Saturday, the Owls were without five starters, including running back Darik Dillard, center Trey Martin and guard Peter Godber on offense and defensive linemen Zach Abercrumbia and Carl Thompson on defense. True freshman Joseph Dill stepped into the void left by Godber, becoming the first true frosh to start for Rice on the offensive line since Scott Mitchell in 2007. Corey Klingler, who took over as a starter at guard in week two, moved to center in place of Martin. Isaiah Edwards shifted from tackle to guard and Sam Pierce returned to the starting lineup at tackle. On the defensive side, redshirt freshman Roe Wilkins joined his Hardin Jefferson HS teammate Blain Padgett in the starting lineup along with Preston Gordon.
Stewart also led the Owls in receiving, finishing with five receptions. Temi Alaka led in receiving yardage with a season-high 65 yards on a pair of catches.
Emmanuel Ellerbee led the Rice defense, reaching double figures for the third consecutive game (10) and also was credited with 1.5 sacks.
The Owls will be back in action in two weeks when they host UTSA on October 15. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on beIN Network.