October 9, 2010 11:51:00 PM
HOUSTON, Texas -- The Mississippi State football team''s offensive line made Vick Ballard''s night pretty simple against Houston.
The junior running back rushed for a career-high 134 yards and three touchdowns, and the Bulldogs gained 409 yards on the ground in a 47-24 win over the Cougars on Saturday.
Ballard had two 12-yard TD runs and a 5-yard score, along with a 54-yard run for Mississippi State (4-2). The Bulldogs finished with their highest rushing total since gaining 464 yards on the ground in a 1992 win against Arkansas State.
"The line did a great job blocking," Ballard said. "I always say that if everybody does their job, it makes it easy for me."
The Bulldogs ran 80 plays and finished with 538 total yards. They had a nearly 20-minute edge in possession time and did not commit a turnover.
"One of the things we wanted to do was control the clock, control the ball and keep our defense off the field," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "Our guys blocked well up front, and our backs ran really hard. When you do that, that''s a full combination of everybody."
The Bulldogs'' defense did the job, too, holding Houston''s high-powered offense to 47 yards rushing. The Cougars had an 18-game home winning streak snapped.
"We didn''t execute, and they did," Houston coach Kevin Sumlin said. "A game like tonight, nobody''s happy. Players are embarrassed, coaches are embarrassed."
Corey Broomfield returned an interception for a touchdown off Houston quarterback David Piland, a freshman who made his first career start. The Cougars (3-2) played their second game since senior QB Case Keenum sustained a season-ending knee injury.
Piland completed 30 of 57 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. He started ahead of freshman Terrance Broadway, who led Houston past Tulane on Sept. 25. Sumlin worked each quarterback equally over the last two weeks, and kept his choice for the starter a secret until just before kickoff.
"He was extremely accurate for the better part of the game," Sumlin said. "When he wasn''t, there were some breakdowns in some protection, and we had some dropped balls at some critical times."
Piland went 5 for 5 on the Cougars'' first series, and hit Kierrie Johnson for an 18-yard touchdown. The Bulldogs smothered the Houston offense for the rest of the half, yielding only 121 yards.
Patrick Edwards fumbled Mississippi State''s first punt, setting up Ballard''s 5-yard touchdown run with 9:25 left in the first quarter. Ballard has scored in each of the Bulldogs'' games this season and has 12 touchdowns overall.
"When I''m about to score, I look at the goal line," Ballard said. "I just say to myself, ''Let''s go get it.''"
Ballard broke a 54-yard run on Mississippi State''s next snap, and quarterback Chris Relf charged into the end zone two plays later to put the Bulldogs ahead 14-7. Relf rushed for 96 yards.
The 5-foot-11 Ballard scored again about five minutes later, as the Bulldogs'' massive offensive line continued to pave huge gaps in Houston''s defense. Mississippi State rushed for 142 yards in the opening quarter.
"We just kept pounding it, kept pounding it," junior guard Quentin Saulsberry said. "That''s what we had to do."
The Bulldogs earned a safety when Houston left tackle Jaryd Anderson was flagged for holding in the end zone. Punter Richie Leone shanked the ensuing free kick, and the Bulldogs started the second quarter with the ball at the Houston 30. Sean Brauchle kicked a 47-yard field goal for a 26-7 lead.
The Cougars drove for a field goal, but Broomfield intercepted a Piland pass just before the break and returned it 27 yards for a decisive touchdown.
Tyler Russell replaced Relf early in the third quarter and threw a 33-yard pass to Chad Bumphis. Ballard spun for another touchdown run on the next snap for a 40-10 lead.
The Bulldogs became the seventh team in school history to score 40 points or more in three games during one season.
Piland threw a 17-yard TD pass to Edwards in the third quarter. The Cougars blocked two field-goal attempts by Brauchle in the second half.
LaDarius Perkins had a 20-yard touchdown run for Mississippi State with 7:08 remaining. Broadway replaced Piland and drove Houston for a score in the final five minutes.
Houston played without leading receiver James Cleveland, who was suspended this week for breaking team rules.