JACKSON, Miss. — A touchdown on the opening drive wasn’t enough to keep Southern quarterback Deonte Shorts on the field against Jackson State on Saturday night, but it did signify a new chapter in the Jaguars’ ongoing quarterback saga.
Shorts easily punched in the opening score of Southern’s 42-28 victory at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. His 5-yard keeper capped an 80-yard drive on which he was 4-for-4 through the air, including a 52-yard pass to wide receiver Justin Morgan.
Unfortunately for Shorts, Southern coaches quickly called for freshman Austin Howard to warm up on the sideline after Shorts was called for a celebration penalty after the touchdown.
“I was excited for him to start, but you cannot let the moment overtake you,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “Expect to make those plays and then know how to celebrate when you do.”
The penalty opened the door for Howard, who was benched for the start of the game after missing curfew during the week.
Odums’ swap was only the latest move in the season-long quarterback competition. Howard started the past four games while Shorts sat with a blood clot in his lower abdomen. Saturday was the fourth time this season both played. Shorts started on all four occasions.
But despite Shorts’ untimely celebration, Saturday’s game showed the pair’s relationship might be more of a partnership than competition.
Both passers were vocal in recent weeks about supporting each other. Shorts previously said he texted Howard before the previous game, a win at Alabama A&M, to wish Howard luck while Shorts remained in Baton Rouge.
Against Jackson State, Howard kept up the feeling of good will. He was the first player on the sideline to greet Shorts after his touchdown.
But more importantly than the quarterbacks’ off-the field mentality, both proved they could deliver on the field when needed.
It wasn’t until midway through the second quarter that Howard finally found his rhythm after a couple of long scoring plays and stalled drives cut his first few series short. Howard connected with tight end Bradley Coleman for his first touchdown of the night.
Howard’s only other score came on a 2-yard run less than a minute into the fourth quarter, finishing a long drive that started in the third quarter. He finished the night with 250 yards and a touchdown on 14-for-24 passing.
Odums said that while Howard is playing like seasoned veteran in his freshman year, the Jaguars coach still expects more.
“He’s doing what he was supposed to do,” Odums said. “I think he can get a lot better.
“He’s playing as good as a freshman can play, and I’m excited for him — but at the end of the day, I’m going to get him to play a little better.”
Howard remained in control of the offense for the rest of the night — except for a brief period late in the third quarter where Shorts stepped under center for a few plays but was pulled before having a chance to throw the ball.
Shorts finished the night with the same stat line he accumulated on the first drive.
Neither quarterback was available to media after the game.
“If you’re going to play with us, you’re going to be disciplined,” Odums said. “That’s the bottom line. We have disciplined guys. We demand discipline, and it’s really about accountability.”