Match-Up: Washington (Pac-12) Vs. Southern Mississippi (C-USA)
Spread: Washington (-8.5)
When: Saturday, December 26th, 2:20 PM
Location: Cotton Bowl, Texas
Where to Watch: ESPN
It was tough for the Huskies to recover from the losses of Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton, and Marcus Peters this season, as they regressed from their 8-6 record from a year ago. Surprisingly, the defense still performed well, as they finished 12th in the league in points per game allowed. The season was pretty inconsistent for Washington. They had some impressive wins against USC and Washington State, but lost a ton of close games to teams like Oregon, Boise State, Arizona State, and Cal. Their only real blowout loss was to Stanford. They head into this game with a talented defense, but an inconsistent offense. We’ll see if they can prove that their record was more of an indicator of how balanced and tough the Pac-12 is, or if they simply can’t finish games.
Players to Watch
Myles Gaskin (RB) – The Huskies rushing attack isn’t exactly lethal; they rank 92nd in the nation in yards per game. But that isn’t to the fault of Gaskin, who rushed for 1121 yards and 10 touchdowns on 201 carries. The next highest rusher on the team accumulated only 282 yards. Look for Gaskin to take the bulk of the carries here, as the Huskies attempt to pound the rock against a pretty good Southern Mississippi run defense.
Travis Feeney (LB) – Feeney was arguably the best pass rusher on this Washington Huskies defensive unit, and the stats back it up. He was responsible for 7 sacks and 15.5 tackles for losses, both of which led the team. The senior outside linebacker is currently a projected 5th round pick according to CBSSports.com, and he will look to improve his draft stock here on national TV.
How Washington Can Win
Jake Browning and the Huskies will have to take advantage of the weakness of this Southern Mississippi team. They rank 64th in the nation in stopping the pass, while Washington ranks 54th in airing it out. This will be one of the most balanced battles in all of these bowl games. On the flip side, Washington ranks 29th in stopping the run, so they will have to stop Southern Miss from rushing the ball. The Golden Eagles are very balanced on both sides of the ball, but Washington CAN expose the weaker points.
Southern Mississippi Overview
Not sure if things could have gone any better for Todd Monken in his third year, as the Golden Eagles won 5 more games this season than they had in the last three years, and found themselves in the Conference USA Title Game. Now they find themselves in a bowl game for the first time since 2011, and will look to continue to build towards to future. For the most part, there was very few bad moments for this team. They suffered an early loss to Mississippi State, which is nothing to be embarrassed about, and played Nebraska down to the wire, only losing by 8 points. Aside from an ugly 31-10 loss to Marshall, the team played very well all season long. They did lose their conference title game to Western Kentucky, but Brandon Doughty and the Hilltoppers were one of the best offenses in football this year. Now they look to prove that they can handle a power conference opponent.
Players to Watch
Nick Mullens (QB) Very rarely do I put the quarterback here. And I can’t discredit the running back duo of Jalen Richard and Ito Smith, who combined for over 2000 yards rushing and accounted for 87.6% of the team’s rushing yards. But Mullens is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation. It’s amazing how many people don’t even know of the junior who threw for 4145 yards, 36 TDs, and only 12 INTs while completing 63.4% of his passes. Look for the undersized QB to try to make a name for himself here on national TV.
Kalan Reed (CB) The senior cornerback has been an absolute ball hawk if I’ve ever seen one. He intercepted 4 balls, returned 2 for touchdowns, and he also deflected 23 passes and broke up 19, which is insane. He also has 4 tackles for loss and has forced and recovered a fumble this season. He’s currently seen as a potential late round draft pick, or perhaps a future practice squad player, but the first team All Conference USA player will look to improve his stock here for the Eagles.
How Southern Mississippi Can Win
I don’t mean to sound like a cliche machine, but just play football. Southern Mississippi is one of the most well balanced teams in the league. They rank around the top 30 in just about every statistical category, aside from defending the pass, which they still rank within the top 50%. This team just needs to do a little bit of everything. Run the ball, set up play action, throw the ball. Play good run defense, force long third downs, get Washington off of the field. Unless this team just benefitted from a weaker schedule (which is possible), they should be able to win this game.
Final Score Prediction: Southern Mississippi Wins 29-21
Brian Sullivan: @TheMadManSports
Photo Credit: http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Zach+Jackson/Jalen+Richard