Start time: 2:20 PM ET, Saturday, December 26
Where: Dallas, Texas, The Cotton Bowl
Series: First ever meeting
Betting Line: Washington -8.5, Over/Under Point Total: 56
When Southern Miss has the ball
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles Air Raid offense picked apart C-USA defenses all season largely through explosive plays. The Golden Eagles have 37 touchdown drives that have taken two minutes or less.
Although the numbers indicate Southern Miss will have the edge on offense, the Golden Eagles have had the benefit of playing seven defenses that finished the season 90th or worse in S&P+ overall and points per game allowed.
In comparison, the Washington Huskies have played against seven offenses that have finished no worse than 50th in S&P+ overall and points per game. Washington's defense will be by far the best defense Southern Miss has seen all season. Entering the game, Washington will have an advantage in playing against two similar spread attacks as the California Golden Bears and Washington State Cougars both use Air Raid offenses just like Southern Miss.
Against California and potential first rounder Jared Goff, Washington allowed 30 points and 491 total yards of offense but the Bears had only one scoring drive that was under two minutes (technically they had two but the Bears were already in scoring position on one of the drives and on that drive they went three and out, settling for a field goal).
Against Washington State to end the season the Huskies held the Cougars' Air Raid offense to 10 points but the Cougars were without their prolific quarterback Luke Falk, as freshman Peyton Bender was forced to make his first career start. Bender passed for 288 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Budda Baker leads a secondary that is aggressive and sound. Baker will probably draw the task of covering Mike Thomas in what will be matchup of the day.
Southern Miss relies on big plays. Washington will give up yards but only the three and four-yard variety. If the Golden Eagles have to sustain long drives without the big play the Golden Eagles will have hard time putting points on the board.
When Washington has the ball
Washington's offense is a great example of a unit getting better as the season progresses. The unit looked extremely out of sync in the first half of the season, as true freshman quarterback Jake Browning struggled to adapt to the speed of the collegiate level. He passed for over 200 yards just once against FBS competition.
To the chagrin of Husky fans, offensive coordinator Johnathan Smith has used a conservative offense for the majority of the season in hopes of winning with defense, but in the last two games the playbook has opened up as Washington scored 97 points in their last two contests against Oregon State and Washington State.
Oregon State is awful on defense and Washington State is only slightly better, so perhaps the explosiveness is just a mirage, but with Browning being effective in the passing game, defenses were forced to stop putting eight in the box against freshman sensation Myles Gaskin.
Southern Miss did a good job stopping the run during conference play but were leaky against P5 foes Mississippi State and Nebraska, where the Southern Miss wore down and was gashed for over six yards per carry.
Myles Gaskin averages 5.6 yards per carry and has broken 20+ yard runs at least once in eight games this season. He is explosive and is the engine for Washington's offense.
Southern Miss should be fine against the pass but if they can't stop Myles Gaskin from breaking huge runs they may be in for a long day as Washington will undoubtedly try to keep Southern Miss' offense off the field.
The determination factor should be even on both sides as Washington is a team full of freshmen and sophomores. If Washington wins you will definitely see the Huskies be preseason darlings next year. Southern Miss hasn't been to a bowl game since 2011 and a win here will cap the country's biggest turnaround with a 10-win season.
Southern Miss has only defeated one team with a winning record all season. Washington, on the other hand, has played against a much rigorous schedule in the Pac 12.
Although the numbers are giving Washington a 69% chance of winning (and Bill Connelly's numbers have loved Washington all season), I think Southern Miss pulls off the upset.
Despite the late resurgence from the Husky offense, I see that as a product of their competition rather than the offense actually turning a corner. Washington's defense, however, is the real deal so don't expect a ton of points from either team.
Southern Miss prevents Myles Gaskin from breaking huge runs and forces Browning into a few turnovers. The Golden Eagles are able to get one more explosive play than Washington and that will be the difference.
Southern Miss 27 Washington 20