Southern Miss

With QB still uncertain, Southern Miss seeks answers after poor offensive showing

Southern Miss running back Ito Smith looks for space against UAB on Saturday at Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss running back Ito Smith looks for space against UAB on Saturday at Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg. Special to the Sun Herald

Mistakes were made on both sides of the ball Saturday in Southern Miss’ 30-12 loss to UAB, but there’s no denying that the lack of production on offense was the main problem.

Head coach Jay Hopson and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson faced questions Monday about what went wrong against UAB and how they can fix the team’s suddenly anemic ground game ahead of Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. non-conference contest at Tennessee.

While Dawson acknowledged he has to do better as a play-caller, he may have best summed up Saturday’s disappointing showing while describing the team’s inability to match UAB’s effort.

“I’ll give (the UAB) coaches and players credit,” Dawson said. “They were highly motivated. Their motivation level was over our motivation level, which was probably true all around. We have to go out and match their enthusiasm and effort. We can draw up whatever we want to draw up, but we’ve got to go out there and attack.”

USM sits at 5-3 overall and 3-2 in Conference USA play headed into its final non-conference bout of the season. There was some buzz in recent weeks about the possibility of hastening Butch Jones’ exit at Tennessee with an upset win on Saturday, but USM now has to be more concerned about getting back on track on offense before closing out conference play.

“It wasn’t good enough,” Dawson said of Saturday’s performance. “Offensively, we need to play a lot better.”

USM had 347 yards of total offense Saturday with just 81 coming on the ground. Senior running back Ito Smith had 36 yards on 12 carries.

Dawson and Hopson had positive things to say about starting quarterback Keon Howard, who was replaced early in the fourth quarter by Kwadra Griggs. Howard completed 14 of 25 passes for 207 yards, including an 86-yard touchdown toss to Smith on the first snap of the game.

“After watching film, I don’t think he played bad,” Dawson said. “He made good decisions with the ball. He was going to the right place. We had missed opportunities that would have helped. We dropped a few third down passes. Even on the final play he was involved in it would have been a 40-, 50-yard gain if we make that play. It went right through the receiver’s hands.

“His attitude and everything throughout the whole course of the game was good. Even when I switched him, he was great. He supported Kwadra. That’s what I want. That’s what I preach. It doesn’t matter who is in the game in that moment in time.”

Howard seems likely to get the start against Tennessee, but Griggs continues to get healthier after being held out three games with an injured left hand.

Hopson wasn’t ready to commit to a starter for Saturday’s game.

“We’re still looking at it,” Hopson said. “We watched (Kwadra) and he’s got much better mobility now on that left side. He’s a guy who can catch (the snap) at ease and have no problem. When we put him in there, we wanted to give him that opportunity because it was still a ball game at the time and see how he was doing.

“I’ve said it before, we’re going to let those guys compete and both of them have played a fair bit of football. I think competition with those two guys is good.”

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

Game plan

Who: Southern Miss vs. Tennessee

When: 6:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Knoxville, Tenn.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WBUV 104.9 FM