Southern Miss

Southern Miss offense seeks reboot at Rice with QB change

Southern Miss quarterback Kwadra Griggs looks for space to run against Kentucky on Sept. 2 in Hattiesburg. He is expected to make his first start since Sept. 30 on Saturday.
Southern Miss quarterback Kwadra Griggs looks for space to run against Kentucky on Sept. 2 in Hattiesburg. He is expected to make his first start since Sept. 30 on Saturday. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Riding a two-game losing streak, the Southern Miss football team has a chance at somewhat of a reboot when it travels to Rice for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday.

USM (5-4, 3-2) is set to make a change at quarterback with redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs expected to make his first start since the 43-28 loss to North Texas on Sept. 30.

Griggs entered the last two games in the fourth quarter, but has mostly been sidelined with a left hand injury for the last five weeks. He had the cast removed from his hand on Sunday.

USM head coach Jay Hopson described Griggs as "100 percent" healthy on Monday.

Griggs is 2-1 in games where Griggs made the start. After taking over for sophomore Keon Howard at halftime of the season opener against Kentucky, Griggs played well as the starter over the next two games – a 45-0 win over Southern University and a 28-17 victory at Louisiana-Monroe.

Griggs has completed 52.7 percent of his passes for 1,071 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions this season.

USM will be a 10-point favorite against a Rice team that has lost seven consecutive games. The Owls showed some fight in a 20-7 loss at UTSA on Oct. 21 and a 42-28 defeat to Louisiana Tech on Oct. 28, but took a step back in last week's 52-21 drubbing at UAB.

A strong showing Saturday could give USM much needed momentum headed into the final two games of the regular season – Nov. 18 vs. Charlotte and Nov. 25 at Marshall.

Ito's plight

USM will have to find a way to get senior running back Ito Smith going on the ground Saturday. He has failed to reach 100 yards rushing in the last three games. If he doesn't reach that mark against Rice, it will be the first time he's gone four consecutive games without rushing for 100 yards since the first half of his sophomore season in 2015.

After rushing for a total of 619 yards and six touchdowns over a four-game stretch starting with the Sept. 16 game at ULM, Smith has rushed for just 135 and no touchdowns over the last three games.

The Rice defense has allowed 196.1 yards rushing per game this season and 427.8 total.

Freshman phenom

One Rice offensive player that Southern Miss will have to account for on Saturday is 6-foot-4, 205-pound freshman receiver Aaron Cephus.

The Houston native has caught 18 passes for 500 yards and five touchdowns this season for an average of 27.8 yards a reception. Over the last four games, he has 11 catches for 367 yards and four touchdowns.

New commits

Southern Miss picked up its second verbal commitment from a Brookhaven High School standout over the last two weeks on Friday.

Senior offensive lineman Trace Clopton picked USM on Oct. 30 over offers from Air Force, Louisiana-Lafayette, Marshall, Memphis and others. Clopton, who plays center, is listed at 6-foot-2, 285 pounds.

On Friday, senior cornerback Jemaurian Jones announced on Twitter that he has verbally committed to the Golden Eagles.

Jones' list of offers is an impressive one that includes Mississippi State, Florida State, Georgia, Louisville, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Jones is listed at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds and is rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.com.

He will have a chance to play immediately at USM with Cornell Armstrong, Curtis Mikell and Trae Collins all set to exhaust their eligibility at cornerback.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

Game plan

Who: Southern Miss vs. Rice

When: 2:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Houston

TV: Stadium on Facebook

Radio: WBUV 104.9-FM

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