Southern Miss

Southern Miss starting QB up for grabs headed into La. Tech game

Southern Miss sophomore quarterback Keon Howard (2) looks for receivers during the game against UTEP last season in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss sophomore quarterback Keon Howard (2) looks for receivers during the game against UTEP last season in Hattiesburg. Special to the Sun Herald

Kwadra Griggs or Keon Howard at quarterback, that is the question.

And Southern Miss football coaches didn’t answer it Monday.

Griggs led the Golden Eagles (4-2 overall, 2-1 Conference USA) to wins over Southern and Louisiana-Monroe. Howard led them to wins over UTSA and UTEP.

This Saturday, USM plays another C-USA game at Louisiana Tech (3-3, 1-1 C-USA) at 6 p.m., but it will be a few days before the starting quarterback is picked.

“Competition makes the world go round,” second-year head coach Jay Hopson said. “We’ll watch them and see how it goes this week.

“We’re always going to watch that (competition) close. We’re always going to compete.”

Griggs, a junior who suffered a left hand injury and has not played the past two games, has completed 66 of 123 passes (53.7 percent) for 951 yards and 8 touchdowns. He has thrown one interception.

Howard, a sophomore, has completed 43 of 70 passes (61.4 percent) for 591 yards and 4 touchdowns. He has thrown two interceptions.

Hopson said he was pleased with Howard’s performance in the 24-0 win over UTEP.

“I thought he managed the team well,” Hopson said. “If we get those explosive plays (called back due to penalties), we’re really rolling. I thought he did a good job.”

Southern Miss offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said Griggs has been practicing. And he noted that one quarterback is not enough.

“Look at last year — you need to have a couple that can play because the game is getting more and more physical,” Dawson said. “You saw it (Sunday) with Green Bay (when Aaron Rodgers was hurt), you never know when freak things are going to happen. Having guys ready is crucial.

“Right now, the way our practices are going, (freshman) Marcelo (Rodriguez) is ready to go. He’s taken a bunch of reps because you just never know. It isn’t like light years ago when we’d give the starter 90-something percent of the snaps (in practice), then the backup took a few. Now, with the way we play offense because the quarterback does get hit more, we give more guys reps because they’ve got to be ready to go in. Last year, we sent (running back) Tez (Parks) in to throw a Hail Mary. We ran out of (quarterbacks) that game.”

In six games, Southern Miss has turned the football over 11 times, an average of 1.83 per game — on three interceptions and eight fumbles.

“We’re like 8,750 times better than we were a year ago,” Hopson said.

It only seems that way. Actually, in 2016, Southern Miss committed 32 turnovers in 13 games — 16 interceptions and 16 lost fumbles — an average of 2.46 per game.

“I don’t think it needs any addressing,” Hopson said about the turnovers. “It happens sometimes in football. We’ve just got to execute.”

Hopson named his players of the week for the UTEP game. They were lineman Drake Dorbeck on offense for his good blocking; lineman Draper Riley on defense for his four tackles, one for a loss, against UTEP’s best offensive lineman; and Justin Abston and Tez Parks on special teams.

“Justin made a big play on special teams on the punt,” Hopson said. “Then, Tez Parks did a great job covering on punts.”

Who: Southern Miss vs. La. Tech

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Ruston, La.

TV: Stadium

Radio: 104.9 FM