Here’s a look at some of the players that helped the Golden Eagles win nine games this season.
Players To Watch
#9 JR 6’1” 196-pound QB Nick Mullens
2015 stats: 306 of 483 for 4145 yards, 63.4% completion, 8.58 YPA, 36 TD, 12 INT, 155.1 RAT
Sneak Peak: The general of the Golden Eagles areal attack boasted by far a career-best 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Mullens uses his solid tandem of tailbacks to create opportunities off play action and to set up run-pass options. He is an accurate quarterback who can deliver strikes when he has time to set his feet. He’s not much of a runner, but he’s quick enough on his feet to move around in the pocket.
Husky Comparison: Jake Browning
#30 SR 5’8” 210-pound RB Jalen Richard
2015 stats: 185 carries for 1098 yards, 5.9 YPC, 64 long, 14 TD, 30 catches for 284 yards, 9.5 YPC, 53 long, 2 TD
Sneak Peak: Jalen Richard is a quick, powerful ball of muscle and a staple in the Southern Miss offense. His combination of shiftiness and strength allow him to make an impact in a variety of ways. Not only did he lead the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, but he also catches passes out of the backfield. Richard returns punts as well. The Golden Eagles like it when the ball is in his hands.
Husky Comparison: A more productive Lavon Coleman
#25 SO 5’9” 195-pound RB Ito Smith
2015 stats: 155 carries for 1088 yards, 7.0 YPC, 75 long, 8 TD, 44 catches for 493 yards, 11.2 YPC, 49 long 3 TD
Sneak Peak: Ito Smith is the lightning to Jalen Richard’s thunder. He amassed 210 total touches taking handoffs, catching passes, and returning kickoffs. His impressive seven yards per carry indicates how difficult it is for defenders to bring him down. With a combination of lateral quickness and straight-line speed, Smith is an essential playmaker for Southern Mississippi.
Husky Comparison: Myles Gaskin
#88 SR 6’1” 200-pound WR Michael Thomas
2015 stats: 62 catches for 1201 yards, 19.4 YPC, 69 long, 12 TD
Sneak Peak: Senior standout Michael Thomas made his biggest impact catching passes downfield, averaging nearly 20 yards per reception. He’s solidly-built but doesn’t have jaw-dropping size, and he doesn’t have top-end speed either. However, Thomas seems to always find a way to get open. He’s a big deep threat, red zone target, and game changer.
Husky Comparison: A larger Dante Pettis
#83 SR 5’10” 180-pound WR Casey Martin
2015 stats: 74 catches for 855 yards, 11.6 YPC, 50 long, 7 TD
Sneak Peak: Casey Martin made his name dominating the middle third of the field. The pass catching machine was Nick Mullins’ favorite target during the season, and understandably so; Martin is sure-handed and fearless when going over the middle. He’s a staple in the Golden Eagles passing attack.
Husky Comparison: Jaydon Mickens
#94 JR 6’1” 265-pound DL Dylan Bradley
2015 stats: 42 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks
Sneak Peak: Dylan Bradley’s six-and-a-half sack season earned him honorable mention All-Conference USA recognition in 2015. However he’s far more than just a sack specialist. He was the fifth leading Golden Eagles tackler this season and finished second in tackles for a loss. His impact off the edge for Southern Mississippi has helped propel the team to second in Conference USA in total sacks.
Husky Comparison: Joe Mathis
#18 SR 5’10” 240-pound LB Brian Anderson
2015 stats: 83 total tackles, 13.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FF
Sneak Peak: Southern Mississippi’s man in the middle has a fittingly short and thick build for his run-plugging role. On top of leading the team in tackles for loss and finishing second in total tackles, Anderson also tallied four sacks from the middle linebacker position, a big indicator of the willingness of the Golden Eagles to bring pressure from the linebacker corps. Anderson and Washington running back Myles Gaskin will know each other well by the end of the game Saturday.
Husky Comparison: Azeem Victor
#12 SR 6’0” 215-pound S/LB D'Nerius Antoine
2015 stats: 93 total tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 4 PD, 2 INT, 4 FF
Sneak Peak: The classic line about 70 percent of the earth’s surface being covered by water and the other 30 percent being covered by Charles Woodson would also be accurate for D’Nerius Antoine. It seems that he’s involved in every play; stopping the run, playing in coverage, and everywhere in-between.
Husky Comparison: A bigger Budda Baker
#11 SR 5’11” 195-pound CB Kalan Reed
2015 stats: 47 total tackles, 4.0 TFL. 4 INT 17 PD, 1 FF
Sneak Peak: Senior shutdown corner Kalan Reed is as solid as they come. He doesn’t have overpowering size or unbelievable speed, but Reed’s instincts set him apart as a first team All Conference USA corner. He covers receivers like blankets, swats passes like flies, and comes up to stop the run like a safety.
Husky Comparison: Sidney Jones
What the Golden Eagles offense looks like
Their offense, which boasts big numbers throwing and running the ball, hangs its hat on the ground game. Their dynamic duo of Jalen Richard and Ito Smith is difficult to contain as both backs pose unique issues for opposing defenses. Unsurprisingly, Southern Mississippi leads Conference USA in rushing yards per game. And trying to limit their impact on the ground is difficult enough; they each can do damage catching passes out of the backfield. The incredible stress that Smith and Richard put on defenses helps open things up for junior quarterback Nick Mullens. Play action and run-pass option creates opportunities downfield for Southern Mississippi’s playmakers at wide receiver. Michael Thomas is a deep threat and a red zone monster while Casey Martin is a reliable possession receiver. Their system is effective, racking up an average of over 500 yards and 40 points per game. The Golden Eagles have a high-powered offense that allows its passing game to feed off the success of its running attack.
What the Golden Eagles defense looks like
Southern Mississippi allowed a conference best 364.1 yards per game, thanks largely to their stout defense against the run, led by senior linebacker Brian Anderson. The Golden Eagles tallied over six tackles for loss every game, partly to their willingness to bring some pressure. They play with four on the line and will often send a fifth player in an attempt to get more pressure. As far as playmakers go, Anderson is far from the only name on that list. Junior defensive end Dylan Bradley accumulated 11.5 tackles for a loss and six-and-a-half sacks. D’Nerius Antoine played a safety-linebacker hybrid role and made an impact all over the field, leading the team in tackles and forced fumbles and finishing third in tackles for loss. Kalan Reed earned first team all-conference honors as a shutdown corner, breaking up 17 passes and returning two of his four interceptions for touchdowns. The Golden Eagles allowed opponents to convert on only 36 percent of their third down chances. All this in unison results in a solid defense, surrendering fewer than 25 points per game.
Keys to the game
- Dominant duo – The offense is as effective as Jalen Richard and Ito Smith are. The earlier they can make an impact the better.
- Win the turnover battle – The Golden Eagles finished seventh in Conference USA in turnover margin, at minus-2. All Husky fans know how big an impact, good or bad, turnovers can make. Just look at the Arizona game and compare it to games against Cal and Utah. Finishing on top in turnover margin will give Southern Miss’s potent offense more chances to explode.
- Earn your tenth win – Washington had to earn this bowl appearance by winning their final two games. Southern Miss lost the Conference USA Championship game before getting placed in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Huskies may have momentum on their side, but the Golden Eagles still have a tenth win to play for. And if that win came against a Pac-12 opponent, it would be an impressive one indeed.
- Get Myles Gaskin going – The Huskies need to go right at the strength of the Southern Mississippi defense and find early success running the ball. Taking pressure off Jake Browning early can create a path to offensive success for the Huskies.
- Limit the damage caused by Richard and Smith – The Huskies have allowed an incredible 133.9 yards per game on the ground. Comparing that number to the Golden Eagles’ nearly 200 rushing yards per game and we have the fixings for an epic battle. Limiting the damage of Richard and Smith could throw Southern Miss off their offensive rhythm and give Washington a big upper hand.
- Keep the momentum going – Washington needed to win two games to qualify for a bowl game. Not only did they win both games, but they did so in dominant fashion. The Huskies earned this bowl birth the hard way. It’s been a while since the Apple Cup, but if they can ride any of that momentum over into this one Washington might come out firing on all cylinders. That would be the exact opposite of last year’s start to the Cactus Bowl versus Oklahoma State, and the Huskies are well aware how big a strong start is to their overall success.