When quizzed about the mood on the Southern Miss sideline after Keon Howard’s interception in the first overtime Saturday at Louisiana Tech, offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson didn’t gloss it over.
“It wasn’t good,” he said. “I don’t know the words to describe it, but it was not good.”
Fortunately for Dawson and the rest of the team, he could flash a shy grin and chuckle about it during the weekly press conference on Monday following Saturday’s 34-27 win in double overtime.
After Tarvarius Moore picked off Louisiana Tech quarterback J’Mar Smith on the first possession of overtime, USM (5-2, 3-1) simply needed to put Parker Shaunfield in position to kick his fifth field goal of the game to get the victory.
After a 3-yard rush by Tez Parks on the first carry, Howard changed the call to a pass play on the next possession. He attempted to connect with Korey Robertson on a crossing pattern, but was instead picked off by cornerback Amik Robertson to force the game into a second overtime.
Howard jogged over to the sideline to face his visibly angry head coach, Jay Hopson.
“I don’t know if there were words of encouragement at that time. I’d be lying if I said that,” Hopson said Monday.
Howard had to make a quick rebound with USM taking the ball first in the second overtime, leaving Hopson and Dawson to try to calm themselves and their quarterback down.
“I said, ‘Look, there’s no way they think we’re going to throw it again. They’re probably going to go cover zero. Go redeem yourself,’” Dawson said. “And he did.”
Howard went back to Robertson on a toss to the end zone for a 25-yard score, giving the Golden Eagles a 34-27 lead that held up thanks to a defensive stop.
“Korey made a great catch and he went out and redeemed himself,” Dawson said. “He shouldn’t have thrown the first one, but the second one was a good play.”
Howard, a sophomore, had the reputation as a gunslinger at Laurel High School and he showed again Saturday night that he’s able to move on from his mistakes with relative ease.
“He’s had that ability really since he started playing last year,” Dawson said. “That’s one thing I saw even in the Old Dominion game last year and some of the games we struggled. He really does get over things quick, which is a good characteristic to have.”
Hopson praise Howard for moving past his mistake on Monday.
“I’m so proud of the young man because it would have been easy for a guy to melt,” Hopson said. “He came right back and threw a touchdown in the second overtime and it basically was the game winning pass.
“He’s an outstanding kid, just a competitor. Just a great job by him overcoming that adversity and battling back for a touchdown. That says a lot.”
Redshirt junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs continued to wear a cast on his left hand while he warmed up for the game at Tech, a sign that Howard is likely set up for his fourth consecutive start in Saturday’s 6 p.m. home game against UAB.
“I feel like we’re in a good situation at quarterback,” Dawson said. “When both of them are in healthy, we’re in a really good situation. Like everything else, we’ll take it week to week and do everything to grind out a win.”
Howard has completed 61 percent of his passes for 892 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions in six games, including four starts, this season.
Griggs has thrown the same amount of passes as Howard, 123, and has completed 53.7 percent for 951 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception.
Ito is fine
Senior running back Ito Smith sat out the second half Saturday and Hopson said after the game that it was due to cramps.
On Monday, Hopson said that Smith should be ready to play this week.
“Ito will be fine,” Hopson said.
Turner’s big play
Redshirt freshman defensive end Jacques Turner, a D’Iberville product, was the man who hit Louisiana Tech’s Smith on the final play of overtime to clinch the win on Saturday.
Turner stripped the quarterback as he tried to get off a pass and it was ruled incomplete.
“He did a great job of winning his one-on-one,” defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. “As the quarterback was throwing the ball, he hit him. It was probably a fumble, but they called it an incomplete pass. Either way, we’ll take it.”
Turner has 10 tackles, including 4.5 for lost yardage, and 2.5 sacks this season.