Southern Miss

Southern Miss starting QB uncertain for UTEP, but one appears to have edge

It’s unclear who will be the starting quarterback for Southern Miss headed into Saturday’s homecoming contest against UTEP, but Keon Howard appears on pace to again get the start.

Howard received his first start since the season opener on Saturday and played well in a 31-29 victory at previously unbeaten UTSA, completing 15-of-20 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns while running 10 times for 31 yards. He filled in for redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs, who continued to wear a soft cast on his injured left hand on Monday.

USM head coach Jay Hopson wasn’t ready to commit to a starter for Saturday’s 6 p.m. game in Hattiesburg.

“We’re waiting to see,” he said. “Kwadra can play, but is he 100 percent? I don’t know yet. We’re just waiting. We’ll go out there and watch the first couple of days this week. We’re certainly blessed to have two guys who are playing great. We’ve got to see how it looks on the practice field.”

USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said the decision to start Howard last week was an easy one.

“Going into the game, the decision we had to make was either play with a 60 percent Kwadra or a 100 percent Keon,” Dawson said. “Keon was playing well the last couple of weeks. Kwadra could have played for sure, but right now Keon is the healthy guy and playing well.”

Dawson said that he saw Howard showing improvement recently in practice.

“Over the past couple of weeks, you could see that Keon was getting comfortable,” Dawson said. “He relaxed a little. Sometimes if you sit back and look and watch for a little while, things settle down for you.”

Griggs has completed 53.7 percent of his passes for 951 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception in four games.

Howard has also appeared in four games, completing 27 of 43 passes for 370 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

USM is 3-2 and 1-1 in C-USA play while UTEP is winless at 0-6 and 0-2 against conference competition.

Ito honored

USM senior running back Ito Smith had never received a C-USA Offensive Player of the Week honor before the season.

He has now has two such honors.

Smith picked up the selection on Monday after running 17 times for 178 yards and an 89-yard touchdown, the longest in USM history, on Saturday. He jumped into second place on the school’s career chart for rushing yards at 3,736, moving ahead of Ben Garry (3,595) and Derrick Nix (3,584).

Smith has 90 carries for 613 yards and five touchdowns this season.

Coaching change

UTEP is working under interim head coach Mike Price following the resignation of head coach Sean Kugler on Oct. 1.

Hopson said that he hasn’t seen many significant changes for the Miners following the upheaval.

“There’s always a little something, but not really,” Hopson said. “At the end of the day there’s always subtle changes each game week. That’s one thing you see from each team, there’s always a little something different. We’re six to seven weeks into the season. You’re not going to see with anybody you play a tremendous amount. We’re preparing for seeing changes.”

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

Game plan

Who: UTEP vs. Southern MIss

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg

TV: Stadium

Radio: 104.9 FM