If the University of Southern Mississippi football coaching staff knows which quarterback will trot out onto the Roberts Stadium turf for the first offensive snap Saturday afternoon, they aren’t saying.
USM coach Jay Hopson said Monday morning that the final decision between whether to start sophomore Keon Howard or redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs likely won’t be made until Friday, at the earliest, and could be a game-day call.
The Golden Eagles open the 2017 season at 3 p.m. Saturday with the University of Kentucky.
“It’ll probably be, to be honest with you, Friday or Saturday,” Hopson said during the first of his weekly news conferences at Duff Athletic Center. “We’re going to let them compete it out.”
The competition to replace former four-year starter Nick Mullens has been waged since the spring, a battle that has been joined this summer by freshman Marcelo Rodriguez.
Griggs, who has not taken a snap during a game for the Golden Eagles, returned to practice late last week after being sidelined with a finger injury. That left Howard and Rodriguez splitting practice repetitions.
Hopson said Griggs deserves a last week of work in his bid for the starting role.
“It’s only fair,” Hopson said. “So, we’re going to let these guys battle it out.”
Hopson said it’s entirely possible that both Howard and Griggs could play against the Wildcats.
“Yeah, I think they’re both going to play,” Hopson said. “I do.”
But Hopson said any timeshare would be determined by each player’s performance on the field during the game.
“If you’re hot, you’re hot, and if you’re not, you’re not,” he said. “We’ll let them line up and play and see how that goes.”
Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was asked whether Rodriguez was in the mix as well.
“Well, we played three quarterbacks last year,” Dawson said of 2016, when injuries to Mullens and backup Parker Adamson led to Howard’s redshirt being taken off to start two late October games. “I know this. We’ll have him ready to play.”
Dawson declined to get into any particular difference between Howard and Griggs that might have one player ahead of the other.
“I would say they are more similarities than differences,” Dawson said. “Other than that, I’m not going to really comment on skills sets and whatever. But I feel that both of them have playing really well.”
Dawson did address the need for not only the quarterbacks but the offense in general to take care of the football.
In Howard’s two starts, he threw four interceptions against one touchdown and lost five fumbles.
“We haven’t put the ball on the ground very much at all,” Dawson said of spring and summer practices and scrimmages. “We’ve certainly tried to get our guys to understand that that little ball is the most important thing out there on the field, so you better take care of it.”
Dawson said he relayed to his quarterbacks a conversation that he had with Hall of Fame quarterback and former USM standout Brett Favre.
“We (may) want the ball to go there,” Dawson said of any given play. “But if you’re seeing a man in a different-colored jersey, then don’t go there.”