There's still plenty to be decided between now and the Sept. 9 season opener against Jackson State, but one quarterback made a strong statement in Saturday's Southern Miss spring game.
The quarterback is junior Keon Howard.
The Gold squad earned a 20-15 victory over the Black Saturday afternoon at Roberts Stadium with Howard putting in a quality passing performance.
Here are some takeaways from Howard's performance and the rest of the scrimmage:
▪ Howard was indeed the best quarterback on the field, leading the Gold offense on three scoring drives in the first half — two field goals and one touchdown.
Howard had a touchdown toss wiped off his stat line when Quez Watkins dropped a pass in the end zone in the first half. The junior from Laurel finished 11-of-15 for 132 yards passing and ran six times for 53 yards.
Howard did make one mistake when he threw a ball into traffic on an attempt to connect with Watkins, but the ball fell to the ground as a harmless interception.
First-year transfer Jack Abraham had a promising spring, but that didn't quite play out during Saturday's scrimmage for the Black team. Abraham, who didn't have much time to get passes off for much of the scrimmage, completed 9-of-17 passes for 101 yards and threw one interception.
It was obvious that Howard was the more experienced of the two players. Howard is entering his third season at USM while Abraham has only been on campus for a little over three months after transferring in from Northwest Mississippi Community College.
Senior walk-on Carter Hankins took some chances downfield and almost every one of them paid off. He completed 3-of-3 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
▪ One other player who flashed on offense Saturday was Hinds Community College transfer De'Michael Harris.
The Vicksburg native showed nice quickness and had two carries for 14 yards on a pair of sweep plays. He caught three passes for 42 yards.
That sweep play hasn't paid off much for USM in the past, but Harris has a chance to break it for a big run on any snap.
▪ Senior running back George Payne appears to be close to being fully healthy after missing the entire 2017 season with a hip injury.
The Mobile native didn't have many big gainers, but he was solid when he touched the ball. He had nine carries for 20 yards.
▪ When the 6-foot, 207-pound Payne sat out last season, the Golden Eagles were often hurting in short yardage situations on offense.
With Payne back in the fold, it appears that offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson will have a pair of power backs to call on.
Redshirt freshman Stephen Anderson was impressive when he got his chances to carry the ball and has shown that he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He finished with six carries for 30 yards and a 1-yard touchdown.
Anderson, who is listed at 6-2, 242 pounds, has a violent style of running with the ball that USM hasn't featured in quite some time.
▪ D'Iberville product Tyler Barnes started for the Gold squad and had a solid game at safety.
Barnes, who narrowly missed out on intercepting a pass deep down the middle of the field, seems in good shape to step in as a starter at safety after USM lost both starters from a year ago.
His former D'Iberville teammate, Jacques Turner, was double-teamed for much of the game at defensive end. Turner said he has bulked up to 270 pounds, making him one of the bigger defensive ends USM has had in a while.
▪ Redshirt senior Darian Yancey is still listed at 6-foot-1, 250 pounds, but he looks much lighter and more mobile. He'll likely work the linebacker/defensive end hybrid spot and he should cover much more ground. He may weigh 230 pounds at this point.
▪ Senior running back T'Rod Daniels also had a nice day and showed off good speed. He had four carries for 40-yards, including a 2-yard TD run.