The Southern Mississippi offense seemed to score at will this season as they shocked many in a 9-3 season that included a Conference USA west division title. The Washington Huskies struggled at times during the season but relied on their defense to give them a 6-6 bowl eligible record. After the season that each of these teams had, an unstoppable offense against an immovable defense was the storyline entering this year's Heart of Dallas Bowl. That wasn't exactly how it went down.
After failing to get much going on their first respective drives, both teams gave a glimpse of the offensive battle that was to come on their second possession. Washington struck first with a two-yard touchdown run by Myles Gaskin to cap off a 12 play drive that consisted predominantly of Jake Browning showing off his accuracy.
Not to be outdone, the Golden Eagles marched right back on the field with intentions to even up the score. Early in the drive, Southern Mississippi attempted to enforce their will in the ground game as they have done so often throughout their season.
However, two main differences quickly became obvious between this game and the rest of the Southern Mississippi season. First, Jalen Richard and his talented running ability would not be active for this game. Second, the Washington defense was much better than the defense of a typical Golden Eagle opponent.
With Richards out, the Southern Miss offense looked to quarterback Nick Mullens to pick up the offensive production. After three rushes for a total of 13 yards, Southern Miss found the end zone on a 56-yard pass from Nick Mullens to Michael Thomas.
After the initial touchdowns, the teams traded scores and showed off their offensive talent. Myles Gaskin added another rushing touchdown to make the score 14-7 before Southern Mississippi responded with a field goal of their own. Trying to extend their lead, Washington added yet another rushing touchdown. This time, Jaydon Mickens showed that Myles Gaskin was not the only Huskie who can run the ball after juking the entire Southern Mississippi defense.
Washington held control of the game and tempo going into a fourth and five for Southern Mississippi from their own 25-yard line. As punter Tyler Sarrazin rolled out for a punt, Curtis Mikell broke free from the punt protection to catch a 22-yard fake punt pass. The fake punt set up three straight completions by Mullens which included a beautiful throw and catch by Michael Thomas for 36 yards. Ito Smith ended the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to give a halftime score of 21-17 in favor of Washington.
It can be argued that although Washington held a halftime lead, Southern Mississippi went into the locker room with strong momentum. The Golden Eagles allowed a Washington field goal to open the second half before Ito Smith added another touchdown on the ground to tie the score a 24.
At this point, Myles Gaskin and the Huskies had enough with the close game atmosphere and decided to just go ahead and win the game. On the very first play of the drive, Myles Gaskin broke free for an 86-yard touchdown to give the Huskies a lead that they would never give back. Gaskin added another touchdown in the fourth quarter to complement two field goals by the Washington kicker, Cameron Van Winkle.
Southern Mississippi attempted to gain back some momentum with another Nick Mullens touchdown pass to Michael Thomas, but it wasn't nearly enough. The Huskies cruised through the fourth quarter to a 44-31 win in the 2015 Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Although Southern Mississippi failed to overcome the rushing attack and defensive intensity of Washington, their turn around from 4 wins over the past 2 seasons has not gotten the national attention that it deserves.
For Washington, the Huskies finish the season with a three-game winning streak and an impressive performance in the historic Cotton Bowl.
Congratulation to the Washington Huskies.