Saturday, December 26, 2015

Washington Huskies: 2015 Heart of Dallas Bowl Champions

Washington entered Saturday as probably the nation's best 6-6 team. It left with a winning record, after beating Southern Miss 44-31 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The Huskies jumped out to a 21-10 lead thanks to three rushing touchdowns in the first half, including two from Myles Gaskin. But Southern Mississippi was able to keep it close thanks to big plays. A 56-yard touchdown pass from Nick Mullens to Michael Thomas was the Eagles' first score of the game, and a second quarter fake punt led to a TD to make it 21-17.
Southern Miss tied it up in the third quarter on a seven-play, 57-yard drive, but Washington answered instantly with an 86-yard touchdown run from Gaskin.
A horrible Southern Miss punt out of its own end zone led to a Huskies field goal, making it a two-score game, and Gaskin's fourth touchdown of the day sealed it.

This was a reminder of how good Washington actually was this year.

By S&P+, Washington was the No. 20 team in the country this year. Between a loaded schedule (six top-50 opponents), youth in nearly every unit and inconsistent play from the offense, the Huskies were unable to turn that into as many wins as it probably deserved. But Washington lost three All-Americans on defense and still had one of the better units in the Pac-12.
One of its biggest problems was in the passing game, where true freshman Jake Browning suffered some ups and downs in his first season. He did a fine job in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, completing 23 of 34 passes for 284 yards, without any interceptions. Browning helped lead the way for Gaskin, who finished with 26 carries for 181 yards and four touchdowns -- all Heart of Dallas Bowl records. It was the first time a Washington back ran for at least four touchdowns since Corey Dillion in 1996, per ESPN.
Now the Huskies get a winning record to show for their good season. And that wouldn't have happened if the grouches got their way and eliminated 6-6 teams from bowl contention. Bowl season is great.

Southern Miss's turnaround rivals any in the country.

Three years ago, Southern Miss went 0-12, one season after winning 12 games. The Golden Eagles fired first-year head coach Ellis Johnson, replacing him with Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken. After four wins in his first two seasons, progress was evident but a long road back was still expected.
This year, the Golden Eagles won nine games, made a bowl game and went toe-to-toe against strong Pac-12 competition. That's more than double the victories of the previous three years combined. And while senior Michael Thomas (nine receptions, 190 yards, two touchdowns) leaves, junior quarterback Nick Mullens (25 of 37, 331 yards, two touchdowns) is scheduled to return. Well done, Southern Miss.
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