HOUSTON (AP) -- Freshman quarterback John O Korn threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns, and Houston overcame a sloppy start to survive Rice 31-26 on Saturday afternoon.
Alex Lyons returned a blocked field goal 61 yards for a touchdown with 2:19 to go in the game to get Rice close, but the Owls missed on the two-point conversion.
Rice recovered the ensuing onside kick at its 47-yard line but was unable to score.
Deontay Greenberry and Ryan Jackson each caught a touchdown in the second half to help lead the Cougars (3-0).
Greenberry finished with 146 yards receiving on six catches, including a 61-yarder from O Korn in the first quarter to set up Houston s first score.
Jackson, who tallied 57 yards receiving, also rushed for 87 and a touchdown on 19 carries.
Senior Taylor McHargue went 21-for-36 for 232 yards with an interception, and Turner Petersen finished with 102 yards and a touchdown on five catches for the Owls (1-2).
McHargue s 1-yard sneak for a touchdown with 10:52 left in the fourth got Rice within 11.
Houston improved to 29-11 all-time against crosstown rival Rice. The game, held before 34,831 at Reliant Stadium, home to the NFL s Houston Texans, marked the first time since 2003 that the schools met as members of different conferences.
Houston s joined the American Athletic Conference this year while Rice remained in Conference USA.
Rice s Chris Boswell had an extra-point attempt blocked in the first quarter and missed field-goal attempts of 55 and 50 yards in the second and fourth quarters, respectively.
O Korn was making his first start of the season, replacing junior David Piland.
Piland, who did not practice during the Cougars bye week, sustained a concussion in the first quarter at Temple on Sept. 7.
O Korn came in to lead the Cougars to a 22-13 win.
Houston trailed 13-7 after an error-laden first quarter, which saw O Korn throw his first interception of the season and free safety Trevon Stewart commit a costly roughing-the-kicker penalty that set up Rice s first score.
Rice quarterback Luke Turner connected with Petersen for a 57-yard TD pass to put the Owls on the board, 6-0, with 12:57 to go in the first quarter, but Boswell had the extra-point attempt blocked by B.J. Singleton.
It didn t take long for Houston to answer.
On the third play of the ensuing drive, O Korn found Greenberry for a 61-yard pass to set up Jackson s 1-yard run. Leone Richie booted the extra point to put the Cougars ahead 7-6.
Rice came roaring back, however, with McHargue finding an alone Klein Kubiak on third-and-6 for a 29-yard pass. Kubiak was forced out at the Houston 1, but the pass set up Charles Ross 1-yard TD rush up to middle to give the Owls the 13-7 lead with 11:25 to go in the first.
O Korn exited the game briefly with under 6:50 left in the first after a hurry by Michael Kutzler left him lying on the ground for a couple of minutes. He was replaced by freshman quarterback Greg Ward Jr.
Ward, who saw action after O Korn s return, went 3-for-3 for 48 yards and rushed nine times for 80, including a 29-yard run in the second quarter to set up a Houston field goal.