Southern Miss

Southern Miss stuns unbeaten UTSA as Keon Howard fills in well at QB

Sophomore Keon Howard received the start at quarterback for Southern Miss Saturday night and helped lead the Golden Eagles to a 31-29 victory at UTSA. (File Photo)
Sophomore Keon Howard received the start at quarterback for Southern Miss Saturday night and helped lead the Golden Eagles to a 31-29 victory at UTSA. (File Photo) Manny Flores

Keon Howard took full advantage of his second chance as the Southern Miss starting quarterback.

The USM offense erupted in the second half behind Howard and running back Ito Smith to pull off a 31-29 upset at UTSA Saturday night.

The Golden Eagles (3-2, 1-1) handed UTSA (3-1, 0-1) its first loss of the season as Howard completed 15-of-20 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns. He threw for just 49 yards in the first half.

Ito Smith ran 17 times for 178 yards and had an 89-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter for the longest scoring run in USM history.

UTSA threatened to tie the game late following a 24-yard touchdown toss from Dalton Sturm to Marquez McNair with 48 seconds remaining, but Sturm's pass was incomplete on the 2-point try and UTSA's onside kick bounced out of bounds to end the Roadrunners' hopes.

"I knew it would be a 60-minute ball game and that's what I told our guys at the half," USM head coach Jay Hopson said. "We made big plays in the third quarter. Our guys showed a lot of fight.

"You have to give UTSA a lot of credit. It was a great game for TV, but not for the coaches. We're happy, ready to get back to Hattiesburg."

The USM team will stay in San Antonio Saturday night due to the expected arrival of Hurricane Nate in South Mississippi.

Hopson, who was noncommittal on his starting quarterback after the game, said that redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs didn't start Saturday night's game due to an unspecified injury.

“We’re blessed to have two great guys,” Hopson said. “Keon did a great job.”

USM appeared to be in a tight spot midway through the third quarter after Parker Shaunfield missed a 32-yard field goal on USM's opening drive of the second half.

Following Shaunfield's miss, UTSA managed to push the ball to the USM 16 on the following drive.

That's when USM senior cornerback Curtis Mikell stepped in to pick off a Sturm pass and return the ball 61 yards to the UTSA 39.

Four plays later, Howard threw a 20-yard touchdown toss to Korey Robertson to give USM a 14-13 lead – its first since going up 7-3 on a 32-yard touchdown toss from Howard to Jay'Shawn Washington on USM's opening drive.

USM forced UTSA into a 3-and-out on its next possession and a 26-yard punt set up USM at the UTSA 48.

On the next play, USM pieced together a perfect flea-flicker that resulted in a 48-yard touchdown pass from Howard to Quez Watkins.

USM had another 1-play scoring drive on its next possession when Smith weaved through the middle of the UTSA defense and broke it for the 89-yard touchdown.

"We started running ball more in the second half and the offensive line opened up a hole for me," Smith said.

A 24-yard field goal by Shaunfield with 1:56 remaining proved to be the decisive score.

USM managed to overcome another strong performance by Sturm, who completed 27 of 43 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns to set a new career high in passing yardage.

USM will host UTEP at 6 p.m. on Oct. 14 for homecoming.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee