Austin Howard was the first player to arrive at Southern football practice Monday afternoon.
He was so early, in fact, that he had to wait for someone to unlock the gate leading from A.W. Mumford Stadium to get to the practice field.
Howard’s eagerness to get back to work was understandable. He came off the bench to play more snaps than starting quarterback Deonte Shorts, including the entire second half of the Jaguars’ 45-6 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, reviving the quarterback competition.
Coach Dawson Odums said both quarterbacks will play in the home opener against Central Methodist on Saturday, but which one starts and how the playing time is divvied up will be determined late this week based on practice performance.
“We still feel like both of those guys give us a chance to win,” offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Chad Germany said. “So the evaluation continues throughout the week.”
Shorts, a redshirt freshman from Southern Lab, completed 2 of 9 passes for 21 yards. Howard, a true freshman from West St. John, completed 18 of 31 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown against the Ragin’ Cajuns. Shorts rushed five times for 3 yards, Howard rushed two times for 4 yards and neither was sacked.
The first two possessions went to Shorts, who was named the starter Aug. 20. The Jaguars went three-and-out on the first as Shorts’ first pass was incomplete, and he scrambled once for 1 yard. Southern gained one first down on the second possession as Shorts had a 3-yard run but missed on both of his passes.
“I thought Deonte did a decent job of leading the offense,” Germany said. “I thought he had command of the offense and just missed some throws early. I think that’s something we can fix.”
Howard entered the game to start the Jaguars’ third possession. On his first college pass, he hit Willie Quinn across the middle for a 56-yard gain to the Cajuns 16 but, on third-and-5, Samuel Altman dropped a pass that could have gone for a touchdown. The Jaguars came away empty-handed when Kyle Yonke’s 29-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide left.
Shorts got the last four possessions of the first half, recovering his own fumble on a 6-yard loss that led to a three-and-out, then managing two first downs total in the next three possessions.
UL-Lafayette had a 24-0 halftime lead, then punted to the Jaguars on the first possession of the third quarter. Howard returned and drove Southern 80 yards in 10 plays. He completed 6 of 7 passes for 51 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown to tight end Bradley Coleman, who had three catches for 34 yards on the drive.
The Cajuns responded with a touchdown that put them back in command with a 31-6 lead, but Howard got four more possessions.
The next two failed to yield a first down, then Southern got one first down before punting. Howard had a hot hand on the last possession, moving the Jaguars from their 24 to the Cajuns 20 by completing 5 of 6 passes for 37 yards before throwing four consecutive completions.
“I thought Austin did the same things that he does in practice,” Germany said. “I don’t think he did his best, but I thought he did a pretty good job of running the offense and leading us down the field for a score. He still made some freshman mistakes, which we can easily correct. We’ll go back to the drawing board and try and get those guys better.”
The primary goal, Germany said, is to have a clear idea of the quarterbacks’ roles going into the Southwestern Athletic Conference opener Sept. 20 at Prairie View. Southern hosts Northwestern State on Sept. 13.
Howard, like all players in their first year in the program, is unavailable for interviews. Shorts and the rest of the players were not available Monday while the university awaits completion of the academic certification of several players who did not make the trip to Lafayette.
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate