NCAA Football: Southern at TSU

Nov 11, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Southern University Jaguars quarterback Austin Howard (7) passes against the Texas Southern Tigers in the first half at BBVA Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea For the Advocate

Thomas B. Shea

The past three Southern games have been senior quarterback Austin Howard’s best this season, and a few statistics in particular illustrate a level of precision that wasn't present before.

Howard completed a season-best 68.8 percent of his passes against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, then 64.7 percent of his passes against Prairie View and 67.6 percent against Texas Southern.

Before the past three weeks, Howard had only topped 60 percent once, when he completed 63 percent against Alabama A&M.

The reason is pretty simple, Southern coach Dawson Odums said: Howard and the Southern offense are just executing well right now.

“It’s a product of him just going through the progression and guys making catches,” Odums said. “When you do that, you’ve got a chance to be successful, and he’s making some good plays.

“I think he’s getting confident. We’re playing well. He’s doing what we know he’s capable of doing and what we expect him to do.”

Howard isn’t exactly feasting on high-percentage short throws, either.

In his first five appearances, while he was completing 56.7 percent of his throws, Howard was averaging 11 yards per completion.

Despite increasing his completion percentage by more than 10 percent — 67 percent the past three games — he is averaging nearly 2 yards more per connection, at 12.73 yards per completion.

It helps that Southern has identified playmakers at wide receiver, Odums said.

“I know he can spin it, but you’ve got to catch the football,” Odums said. “When you do that, it gives him a chance to get in a rhythm. He gets hot, and you see the results of that. He’s completing a lot of passes.”

With Howard in such a groove, the Southern offense has averaged 39 points and 510.3 yards in its past three games. 

Healthy as can be

For the second straight season, Southern will go into its annual rivalry matchup against Grambling with the benefit of a largely healthy roster.

Outside of the players who have been lost for the season — including running back Darbbeon Profit and receiver Randall Menard — the Jaguars don’t anticipate any key players to miss the Grambling contest.

The injury bug has bit Southern a little harder this season than it did in 2016. Howard missed two games and was limited for several others, and running back Devon Benn missed nearly a month.

But the Jaguars are operating with a near full deck at the most important time of the year.

“We’ve gotten healthier and we’re playing better, and that’s a good thing,” Odums said. “I think you can attribute that to players recovering and us being smart about it, not pushing guys through and allowing them time to rest and recover.”

Stat correction

A correction was made to the box score from Southern’s 33-7 win against Texas Southern last Saturday.

Wide receiver Cameron Mackey was erroneously credited with a 40-yard run on a play where he actually gained 12 yards.

The error was a product of the wrong input of Southern’s starting field position. The Jaguars gained possession on that drive when Aaron Tiller forced and recovered a fumble at the Texas Southern 36-yard line, but the scorer mistakenly had Tiller recovering the ball at the Southern 36.

With the mistake fixed, Southern’s final offensive tally took a dip: The Jaguars officially gained 478 total yards (instead of the initially reported 501), with 275 yards rushing (instead of 298).

Weekend off

After Southern wrapped up practice Thursday morning, Odums gave his players the next couple days off. Southern will not return to the football facility until Sunday.

Odums said he planned on using the days to rest and recharge as well, though he will also be taking in plenty of football on his off days.

“I’m going to sit back and watch a little football and go from there,” Odums said. “I’m going to be out watching some local games tomorrow, make it out to Lafayette or New Orleans, just find some football to watch.”

Follow Luke Johnson on Twitter, @ByLukeJohnson.