A lackluster offensive performance in the team’s 30-12 loss to UAB opened up new questions about the Golden Eagles quarterback situation.
“It was a tough loss,” said Head Coach Jay Hopson. “We just didn’t play well. Put that on me. It was certainly a disappointing loss. Give UAB credit with their playing and coaching. They deserved to win.”
Quarterback Keon Howard’s three-game winning streak as a starting quarterback came to an end against the UAB Blazers, and it may have put his position as the starting quarterback in jeopardy after being replaced by quarterback Kwadra Griggs in the fourth quarter of the loss.
After being pulled at the end of the first half of the season opener against Kentucky, Howard got his chance to lead the Golden Eagles once again after Griggs injured his left hand in a loss to North Texas on Sept. 30.
In Howard’s first start since Kentucky, an Oct. 7 game against University Texas at San Antonio, he led Southern Miss to a surprising 31- 29 win over the then 3-0 Roadrunners and showed clear improvement in the passing game with three touchdowns through the air.
That performance was followed by a 24-0 win over University of Texas at El Paso a week later and a 34-27 double overtime victory over rival La Tech on Oct. 21, which was sealed when Howard threw a 25-yard touchdown to wide receiver Korey Robertson in the second overtime period.
Against UAB, Howard and the offense struggled to move the chains against the Blazer defense. Howard was 14-of-25 throwing for 207 yards and a touchdown but his numbers did not give justice to his performance as a combination issues with wide receivers dropping passes and just a lack luster of team issues impacted Howard’s performance.
“Offensively as a whole, we didn’t have a great day,” Hopson said. “Sometimes you have those bad days and you gotta get over them and move on.”
Southern Miss opened with Howard finding running back Ito Smith for an 84-yard touchdown catch. Notably, that catch gives Smith the two longest plays of the year including his 89-yard touchdown run against UTSA.
After the fast start, the offense only put together two field goals but gave the Golden Eagles a 12-7 lead at halftime.
From there UAB took the lead and control of the game due to Southern Miss’ offense inability converting third downs. Through the first three quarters that Howard led the Southern Miss offense, they converted only 4-of-11 third downs.
With 11:34 left to play in the contest, Hopson pulled Howard and replaced him with Griggs. Griggs, who looked shaky in his return to action, completed 5-of- 13 passes for 59 yards and a pick six towards the end of the contest.
The Blazers took advantage of Southern Miss’ inconsistent passing game by controlling the time of possession and forcing Southern Miss to play catch up which also kept the Golden Eagle run game from being utilized to its full ability.
“We just didn’t run the ball very well and we didn’t throw the ball very well today,” Hopson said. “Defensively, we need to be better too. Again, Coach Hopson will take all of it but we just need to get better.”
With another quarterback decision looming before the team’s road contest against SEC opponent Tennessee, Coach Hopson needs to remember the grit and never give up attitude Howard brought to the table during the three-game winning streak before making a final decision on who will start.
The Golden Eagles travel to Knoxville, TN to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. The game will be televised on the SEC network with kick off set for 6:30 p.m.