Displaying a talent level and coaching competency far above its final 7-6 record, Washington handled Conference USA West Division Champion Southern Miss 44-31 Saturday afternoon in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The Huskies led 14-7 after one quarter and, after Southern Miss gradually pulled to a 24-24 tie with 2:47 remaining in the third quarter, pulled away from the Golden Eagles by scoring 20 of the game’s final 27 points to provide the winning margin.
The majority of Washington’s near 600 yards and near 50 points were produced by a battery — freshman quarterback Jake Browning and sophomore running back Myles Gaskin — that should place the Huskies within the myriad of 2016 preseason top 25 polls and near the top of the Pac-12 preseason rankings. Browning hit 23-of-34 passes for 284 yards with no interceptions (plus 28 rushing yards), while Gaskin was the game’s breakout star with 26 carries for 181 yards and four touchdowns.
Gaskin slipped in from two and one yards out to provide both of Washington’s first quarter scores, and his 86-yarder at the 2:26 mark of the third quarter put U-Dub on top for good. His final score, a 13-yard dash with 7:53 left in the fourth quarter, put the Huskies up 41-24, effectively stretching the game out of reach.
Browning and Gaskin’s exploits, combined with a defense that entered bowl season leading the Pac-12 in both points and yards allowed, should give Chris Petersen and company plenty of optimism as the calendar turns toward next season.
That’s not to say that, despite today’s results, Southern Miss (9-4) shouldn’t feel darned excited about its trajectory, either. Todd Monken and company tripled their win total from 2014 — and that was a major success compared to the one combined victory the 2012 and ’13 seasons saw. Junior quarterback Nick Mullens hit 25-of-38 passes 331 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions to lead the Eagles, and Michael Thomas shined in his going-away party with nine grabs for 190 yards and two touchdowns.