Southern decided two wasn’t better than one in its Southwestern Athletic Conference opener.
The Jaguars had played two quarterbacks — Deonte Shorts and Austin Howard — in each of their three preconference games, and they initially planned to do the same when they visited Prairie View on Saturday.
But Shorts was limited in practice last week after taking a shot to his elbow against Northwestern State the previous week. So Howard, a true freshman from West St. John, made his first start and, even though Shorts was in uniform, Southern stuck with Howard the entire game.
“It was a simple decision,” coach Dawson Odums said Monday, adding that he expects both quarterbacks to play Saturday at Alcorn State. “Shorts missed the most time he has missed in practice. Howard did an outstanding job. He made good decisions. I was proud of his performance.”
The Jaguars emphasized the run in their game plan, and they had so much success on the ground that they never had to ask a whole lot from the passing game, which was missing two key receivers in Randall Menard and Mike Jones. Howard was 8-of-15 for 108 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a score.
“I think you have to consider all of the factors going in with a young quarterback,” offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Chad Germany said. “He was starting his first game, and we had a couple of receivers down, so I thought it was a good game plan. With some of the things we saw on film from Prairie View, we thought we could have an edge by going out and running the football.”
Howard was coming off his worst performance, having thrown three interceptions against Northwestern State and watching from the sideline as Shorts played the entire second half.
“Three interceptions is a glaring number,” Germany said. “But when you look at the film, it was a half a step here or a ball that was a little late there, and then there was a tipped ball. So when you look at the interceptions, they weren’t just completely bad reads. He was throwing the ball to the right guy; he just took one extra step. We talk about minimizing the steps we take in the pocket. It was just fundamentals.”
Howard was efficient against Prairie View. On third-and-5, he completed an 11-yard pass to Sam Altman and followed that with completions of 20 yards to Willie Quinn and 7 to Reggie Travis on a second-quarter drive that ended with Howard’s 4-yard touchdown run.
He threw a 24-yard touchdown to Dillon Beard on the first possession of the third quarter to give Southern a 31-10 lead. Most importantly, he and his teammates played a turnover-free game.
“I thought Austin did a great job of managing the game,” Germany said. “We didn’t turn the ball over on offense, which was one of our goals going into the game.”
Southern didn’t score on its last five meaningful possessions. Running the clock down became a bigger priority after the Jaguars built a 34-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
They kept leaning on the running game even after running backs Tyre Bracken (shoulder) and Lenard Tillery (cramps) were sidelined. Malcolm Crockett (ankle) and Jamarcus Jarvis (ankle) already were out. John West had eight of his 10 rushes in the fourth quarter.
“Austin was great,” West said. “He was controlling the clock, got everybody rounded up, made sure everybody was fine so we could stay relaxed as well. He knew if we just executed and kept the ball in our possession, everything would be fine.”
Since he’s a true freshman, Southern does not make Howard available for interviews. The team also made Shorts off-limits Monday.
“He’s a freshman, but as you can see he’s not playing like a freshman,” Quinn said of Howard. “He took charge like no other freshman would have. He did what he’s been coached to do.”
Added Germany: “We think both guys give us a chance to win. Austin just gave us a better chance in that last game.”
NOTES: Quinn was named SWAC special teams player of the week after returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown against Prairie View. … Tillery, who rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown, was named offensive player of the week by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. … Tillery and Jarvis practiced Monday, but Crockett and Bracken didn’t.
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.