There will be little room for error in Ruston, La., for the Southern Miss football team Saturday night.
The Golden Eagles (4-2, 2-1) easily overcame three turnovers in a 24-0 victory over winless UTEP last week in Hattiesburg, but they will have to play a much more clean game to pick up a win at 6 p.m. Saturday at Louisiana Tech (3-3, 1-1).
The Golden Eagles have won back-to-back games against Louisiana Tech and a big reason for that is their advantage in turnover margin.
“This is a game that for the last two years we have pretty much been out-coached, out-played, out-hit and we are 0-2 against them the last two times we played,” Tech coach Skip Holtz said this week. “We are minus-8 on the turnover meter. As much as we talk about turnovers and how important they are in winning and losing, if you are minus-8 in a two-game series, you are not going to win many games. We are going to have to place a huge amount of emphasis on ball security.”
Howard gets the call
Sophomore Keon Howard will make his third consecutive start at quarterback for the Golden Eagles on Saturday, head coach Jay Hopson confirmed Friday afternoon.
Howard and redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs have both seen about the same amount of snaps at quarterback this season and had comparable success. They're both 2-1 in games they've started.
Howard has started the last two games, both wins, while Griggs recovers from an injury to his left hand.
Griggs, who has shown the ability to hit the deep pass, has completed 66 of 123 passes for 951 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. He also has 36 carries for 77 yards and one touchdown.
Howard has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 591 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He has run 26 times for 59 yards.
Howard, who had a bumpy start to his career last year after he was forced into action due to injuries, hadn't been overly turnover prone this season until last week's game against the Miners when he threw a pair of interceptions and fumbled it away once.
While Hopson said this week that he wasn't that concerned about turnovers on offense, Howard has shown a tendency of fumbling the ball away. In his five career starts at USM, he has lost eight fumbles and fumbled 10 times total.
After completing just 44 percent of his passes last year, Howard has shown significant improvement as a passer. He has been more accurate on short and intermediate tosses than Griggs, who puts a little too much pace on some of his shorter passes.
Penalties piling up
While turnovers were an issue for USM last week, there were also far too many penalties on that side of the ball. USM had 10 penalties as a team for 94 yards.
“We had a significant amount of penalties that took a lot of big plays away,” USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “Some of those deals were effort and some were good calls on the officials. We’ve just got to clean it up on our side. You can clean up the offensive pass interference deals. All that stuff is fixable.”
Louisiana Tech ranks 13th in the nation in fewest penalty yards per game at 37.83 while USM ranks 111th at 70.33.
If USM cuts back on penalties and avoids more than one turnover, it should be in good shape to move one win closer to bowl eligibility.
Who: Southern Miss vs. Louisiana Tech
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Where: Ruston, La.
Radio: WBUV 104.9 FM