HOUSTON — Southern quarterback Dray Joseph surveyed the landscape of scrambling bodies and managed to freeze Houston linebacker Austin Wilson.
That split second created a seam that let Joseph fire a dart to receiver Samuel Altman for a 19-yard touchdown that drew the Jaguars within seven points in the second quarter Friday night at Reliant Stadium — a fleeting highlight in a 62-13 season-opening loss.
Faith in Joseph’s left arm shouldn’t waver, though. The senior, a preseason All-Southwestern Athletic Conference pick, reeled off 15 consecutive completions after misfiring on his first throw and finished with 268 yards and two touchdowns on 27-of-36 passing.
“I did a great job controlling my energy,” said Joseph, who started the night 15 of 16 for 163 yards. “I didn’t want to be too excited and overthrow balls, and I just came out and played an efficient game.”
Acting as the leader for the Southern offense isn’t new for the senior, who led the conference in passing last season.
“He’s been performing well all fall, and he was ready to come out and have a great game,” coach Dawson Odums said. “He hit some receivers and he moved the offense.”
Upset aspirations withered a possession after Joseph linked up with Altman.
He skidded a quick out to Lee Doss, which led to a punt. Houston raced 71 yards to put its foot on the Jaguars’ neck with Ryan Jackson’s 15-yard touchdown run six minutes before halftime.
Southern can take solace, though, in Joseph and his corps of receivers. Doss, who had five catches for 53 yards, remains Joseph’s first option — but Altman, a 6-foot, 196-pound junior, emerged as viable second option with four catches for 74 yards.
Granted, the Houston secondary could generously be described as sieve. The Cougars ranked No. 118 in pass defense last season, allowing 483 yards per game and 30 completions of 30-plus yards.
On a reverse flea flicker in the second quarter, Altman skied over corner Zach McMillian for a jump ball at the Cougars’ 20-yard line. Later, Quinn hauled in a perfect throw down the Houston sideline for a 38-yard score to draw Southern within 34-13 barely three minutes after halftime.
“I know what those guys are capable of,” Joseph said. “It’s just up to the opponents to realize that Sam Altman and Willie Quinn are great guys.”
Altman’s grab went for naught. Freshman running back Kylum Favorite had the ball punched loose as he fought for extra yardage. UH linebacker George Bamfo pounced to kill the drive. The Southern run game, the worst in the SWAC last year, left the Jaguars one-dimensional.
Darrius Coleman had 92 yards on 22 carries, which came mostly in the fourth.
“They’re a little stronger up front and bigger guys,” Joseph said. “All in all, when we play guys down at our level, it’s going to be a great season for us.”
Whether that will come to fruition couldn’t be answered Friday, and Joseph wasn’t exactly in a mood to examine the struggles of Southern’s ground game.
“You can’t do nothing about the game no more,” he said. “There’s zero seconds on the clock.”