Southern Miss

Southern Miss quarterback anxious to shine vs. Florida State

Southern Miss quarterback Kwadra Griggs talks to offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson during the third quarter of their game against Kentucky at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg on Sept. 2.
Southern Miss quarterback Kwadra Griggs talks to offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson during the third quarter of their game against Kentucky at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg on Sept. 2. File

Kwadra Griggs’ first season on the field at Southern Miss has featured multiple frustrating injuries, but his clean play at quarterback is a big reason that the team sits at 8-4 headed into Wednesday’s Independence Bowl contest with Florida State.

When he’s been healthy enough to be on the field, Griggs has been a calm and efficient leader of the offense. The redshirt junior has started six contests and played in nine games total, completing 56.2 percent of his passes for 1,793 yards, 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

“He’s a guy that’s really had a tremendous season,” USM head coach Jay Hopson said. “He’s a big part of what we do and we hope he continues to keep progressing.”

Griggs played his best football late in the season, starting the final three games of the season – all victories for the Golden Eagles.

In USM’s 28-27 win at Marshall in the regular season finale, Griggs completed just 16-of-35 passes for 170 yards, but he did connect on three touchdowns and more importantly – no interceptions.

Griggs’ ability to avoid crucial turnovers has arguably been his greatest attribute. His two interceptions haven’t had much of an impact on outcomes – a deep toss on third down against Louisiana-Monroe and an interception returned for a touchdown against UAB in a game that was already decided.

“I’m just trying to be smart with the ball,” Griggs said. “Coaches tell us less turnovers win the game so I try to create fewer turnovers.”

Griggs has played well late, but he admits that he’s still not 100 percent healthy headed into the bowl game.

“I’m not at my best right now, but I will be soon,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of injuries going on, but I’m continuing to fight through them.”

Kwadra’s turn

Wednesday’s 12:30 p.m. game against Florida State gives Griggs his best shot to show what he’s capable of against Power 5 competition.

A right hand injury prevented him from making the start in the season opener against Kentucky and a left hand injury kept him from starting the game at Tennessee. Griggs replaced start Keon Howard in the second half of both games, but he didn’t have quite enough time to rally the Golden Eagles.

On Wednesday, he gets his shot against an FSU team that may be only 6-6, but still features plenty of talent.

“It’s a big deal,” Griggs said. “This is my first bowl game so I’m excited to play in it. I’m very excited.”

USM is set to have a crowded spring at quarterback after signing Northwest Mississippi Community College quarterback Jack Abraham on Wednesday. Redshirt freshman Marcelo Rodriguez and Howard, who will be a junior next year, are also set to be in the mix this spring.

Griggs has a chance to take a firm grasp on the job headed into the offseason with a good showing against Florida State.

FSU is a 17-point favorite headed into game week, but Griggs doesn’t see the odds as being too tall on Wednesday.

“They’ve got a lot of good players, but it ain’t nothing we ain’t got,” Griggs said. “They bleed blood and we bleed blood. They put their pants on, we put our pants on. We’re just ready to play and ready to compete.”

Greenwood connection

If USM is to beat FSU for the first time since Brett Favre’s squad did it in 1989, Griggs will have to hook up with his favorite target and former Greenwood High School teammate Korey Robertson.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Robertson has 72 catches for 1,070 yards and 11 of the team’s 23 touchdown receptions.

Griggs and Robertson have been connecting on passes since they were 8 years old and playing Pee Wee football.

Whether it’s been Howard or Griggs, Robertson has become the main target of the USM passing game.

“He’s gotten a lot smarter, a lot stronger and a lot faster,” Griggs said of Robertson said. “Korey wants it more. Back in middle school and high school, he had the athletic ability to do what he wants. Now, he’s learning the game and becoming a better player.”

If the Greenwood connection gets rolling Wednesday in Shreveport, USM has a chance to claim its third win in the state of Louisiana this season after winning at Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Monroe.

“Whoever wants it more, that’s who is going to be the winner,” Griggs said.

Independence Bowl

Who: Southern Miss vs. Florida State

When: 12:30 p.m., Wednesday

Where: Shreveport