Dawson Odums doesn’t sound like a football coach who’s on the verge of handing Southern’s offense over to just one quarterback.
And there’s no reason he should be.
In the wake of a close preseason battle, Austin Howard outperformed Deonte Shorts in the season opener two weeks ago, then Shorts outperformed Howard in the second game Saturday.
Odums summed up the two weeks after Saturday’s 56-14 win against Central Methodist.
“We have two pretty good quarterbacks,” he said. “People keep asking me, ‘Who are you going to play? Who are you going to play?’ Tonight you saw why we named Shorts the starter. Last week, you saw why it was a competition.”
In other words, it’s still a competition, and that competition shouldn’t end until one or the other is no longer able to keep up.
Clearly we’re not at that point.
Odums said Shorts had “first-game jitters” when he made his collegiate debut in the 45-6 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette on Aug. 30.
Shorts admitted he might have allowed the pregame distraction of a late arrival to Lafayette while the university unsuccessfully tried to academically certify several key players to affect him.
“My mind wasn’t really there,” he said. “I just had to get my focus right. I feel 10 times better this week.”
Howard was the more poised of the two in the opener, but Saturday, Shorts looked more like the redshirt freshman he is and Howard looked more like the true freshman he is.
Odums said he didn’t read too much into the first game because “I believe in consistency.” After a mere two games, neither qualifies as consistent — all the more reason to keep playing both.
Until Odums sees one quarterback clearly outperform the other on a consistent basis, he’s content to continue playing both, not only against Northwestern State on Saturday but also against Southwestern Athletic Conference opponents, beginning with Prairie View on Sept. 20.
Continuing to play both quarterbacks makes sense, not just because there isn’t a discernible difference in their effectiveness through two games, but also because there is a discernible difference in their strengths.
Both are dual threats, but Howard is a more polished passer and Shorts a more explosive runner. Howard was more effective in the first game because of his passing, and Shorts was more effective Saturday because of his running.
Playing both forces opponents to prepare for and defend a quarterback tandem that can make all the necessary throws, run the read option effectively and move the chains by scrambling — a package neither quarterback appears ready to offer individually.
Howard, as a first-year player, is not made available for interviews, but Shorts spoke for both when asked about the competition.
“Even though people say it’s a competition, Austin and I don’t really look at it that way,” he said. “We both try to help each other get better any way we can. When he comes off the field, I tell him what I see or what he missed, and he tells me the same thing.
“I want him to do well, just like he wants me to be successful on the field. I feel like we have a brotherhood relationship, so everything works out for each other.”
Odums said he’s “comfortable” playing two quarterbacks for however long that presents the best opportunity for success. He also has “no problem” anointing one as soon as their play makes it clear that the best option is to stick with him — whoever that might be.
It has been said that a team that plays two quarterbacks really doesn’t have any quarterbacks. But in Southern’s case, playing these two might just be the key to a complete offense.
“They complement each other,” Odums said. “I’m looking forward to seeing them play as the season goes along.”