Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson didn't explicitly say it Monday during his weekly press conference, but it appears that redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs is in position to be the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season.
Sophomore Keon Howard mostly filled in well as the starter over the last five games while Griggs recovered from an injured left hand, but his performances against UTEP and Tennessee weren't quite up to par.
Unless Griggs catches fire over the final three regular season games, there will be questions going forward about USM's future at the position. USM is 5-4 overall and 3-2 in Conference USA play headed into Saturday's 2:30 p.m. road game at Rice.
Howard has shown that he can get red hot at any moment, but his turnover issues have often come up at the worst possible time. He had two turnovers in the second half at Tennessee that were both converted into touchdowns in a 24-10 loss. Even while leading USM to a 34-27 win in overtime at Louisiana Tech on Oct. 21, he had an interception returned for a touchdown and threw his worst pick of the season in the first overtime.
Howard's best performance of the season came on Oct. 7 when he completed 15 of 20 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-29 win at UTSA. He got hot in the second half and seemed to find every open man.
The offense clearly showed more spark when Griggs entered the Tennessee game late with a cast still on his left hand. When he entered the game with 10:08 remaining, he immediately led the team on a 95-yard touchdown drive. Even though the line struggled to protect him, he completed 6 off 11 passes for 61 yards and had one rushing touchdown.
Griggs had the cast removed from his left hand on Sunday so that should no longer be an issue when receiving snaps.
A glance at Griggs
Griggs had the one poor performance in a 43-28 loss to North Texas, but there was no way to single out one player in that defeat. UNT outplayed the Golden Eagles in a variety of ways and 28 points should give you a chance to win. Griggs finished 19-of-42 for 270 yards and one touchdown.
The one area that Griggs has to show improvement is his accuracy. He needs to show more touch on his shorter passes and not be so inclined to go for the deep target.
Griggs has completed 52.4 percent of his passes for 1,071 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. His two interceptions didn't prove terribly costly with one coming on a deep toss on 3rd-and-long in the 28-17 win at Louisiana-Monroe and the other coming in a difficult situation late in the 30-12 loss to UAB.
Howard has completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 1,199 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions.
While both players have shown great upside at times, neither has yet earned the right to be considered the starter entering the 2018 campaign.
If Griggs or Howard can't grab hold of the job in the final weeks of the season, the answer in 2018 may already be on the roster – freshman Marcelo Rodriguez.
The 6-foot-2, 201-pound Miami native drew praise from Hopson during the preseason, but he is sitting out this year to receive a redshirt.
There's no denying that Rodriguez passed the eye test during fall camp. He looked the part and threw a nice, tight spiral. He has prototypical size and showed in high school that he can run with it.
A lot of things can change in the offseason and the staff has the option of looking at the junior college level for another quarterback.
USM is in a good position where it has multiple quarterbacks who have shown they can win games, but they need one of those players to step up and take ownership of the job.
Who: Southern Miss vs. Rice
When: 2:30 p.m., Saturday
Radio: WBUV 104.9 FM