Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Southern quarterback Austin Howard (7) runs in for a touchdown in the first half at Prairie View.

Austin Howard makes his fourth consecutive start at quarterback for Southern when it visits Alabama A&M on Saturday.

Barring something unexpected, he’ll go the distance for the fourth consecutive game after spelling now-injured starter Deonte Shorts in the first three games.

Though the time off and an impending open date might allow Shorts to return to the mix at Jackson State on Oct. 25, for now the job belongs solely to Howard, a true freshman from West St. John.

“He’s having to play a lot of snaps,” coach Dawson Odums said. “They do a great job at West St. John of developing quarterbacks. He’s growing up fast. You’re starting to see on a day-to-day basis his talent level. He has all the talent to make all the throws. Now it’s just that mental aspect of the game and he’s continuing to get better each week.”

Howard’s ball security has been up to Odums’ standard as he has thrown six interceptions and lost two fumbles. Half of his interceptions have been tipped and weren’t the result of poor decision making. He threw an interception and lost a fumble, but also passed for a season-high 230 yards in a 51-36 victory against Arkansas-Pine Bluff last Saturday.

“I thought Austin grew up in that football game,” Odums said. “He really moved the offense up and down the field. He had the one turnover where they were able to get the fumble for a touchdown and he had the interception late in the game but I really thought his decision making was great.”

On the second play of the game, Howard lofted a long pass for Reggie Travis, who was between two Arkansas-Pine Bluff defensive backs. Travis used his 6-foot-3 frame to leap and snatch the ball out of the air.

One of the defensive backs fell down and Travis out-ran the other for a 79-yard touchdown.

“He just threw it up and let Reggie go up there and get it, so he’s having more confidence in his receivers and more confidence in his arm,” running back Lenard Tillery said. “That’s definitely helping us out.

“Last week was one of his stronger performances of the season. He’s a lot more calm now. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows who’s going where. He’s watching a lot more film, so he knows the other team and their tendencies.”

Howard’s fumble last week came at the Jaguars 4-yard line and the ball bounced into the end where UAPB recovered to tie the score at 7.

“Me and a couple of coaches went over to him and told him to shake it off,” wide receiver Justin Morgan said. “It’s early in the game. Things happen, just come out and do better the next series. He shrugged it off, played better the next series and played better the whole game. He’s starting to feel comfortable on the big stage and he’s starting to come into his own.”

Southern doesn’t need or expect either quarterback to attempt 30 passes. It just needs an efficient passing game that balances the offense and keeps defenses off balance.

“We’re going to try and get our running attempts, but if you load the box we have the ability to throw the football and we trust Austin in whatever situation it might be to deliver the right throw and he’s done that and he’s only going to continue to get better as the season goes along,” Odums said.

“We’re implementing game plans to take advantage of everybody. “I told him, ‘you’re lucky. You’ve got an offensive line that protects you, you’ve got running backs that can take pressure off you and you’ve got receivers that can catch the ball. Now just do your part.’”

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