With a young team, the Dawg Pound clamored that the best part of making a bowl game is the extra practices, the extra chances to improve what we have. While that is all good and helpful, it's fun to watch a team show what it is capable of after a season of growth. Early-season UW wouldn't have scored 44 on anybody. The defense left some to be desired, but in the end Chris Petersen's Dawgs fought their way to a convincing 44-31 victory on the strength of the freshman offensive pace-setters.
Instead of riding its workhorse running back early, Washington used a
three four-headed rushing attack with Myles Gaskin splitting reps with Lavon Coleman, Deontae Cooper and Scramblin' Snake Jake Browning all carrying the ball at times over the first two UW drives. Browning made more defenders miss than any of his receivers during the first pair of drives, which ultimately culminated in a three-yard, three broken-tackle touchdown.
Southern Miss responded with a long catch and run by gazelle-striding Michael Thomas that was ultimately successful due to a pair of poor pursuit angles from Keishawn Bierria and Brian Clay.
The third offensive drive by the Dawgs was almost a mirror image of the second: a methodical mix of short passes, one long ball, and a whole lot of bruising though unsuccessful runs. Gaskin scored his second teeder of the afternoon with a short power run to the left.
USM QB Nick Mullens made several big-time throws down the middle of the field, fitting the ball into tight windows on frozen ropes just between linebackers and safeties. He did it while standing in the pocket and while lying flat on his back with the shoulder of Elijah Qualls in his chest. it ended in three points.
Jaydon Mickens made the most jitterbug play of his career for the third UW score. He took an end around from Browning heading toward the right sideline. He then planted his foot and darted upfield to shake the contain defender. Barely breaking stride, he sidestepped a linebacker into overpursuit and took his next two steps to change direction back toward the left sideline, freezing another defender in his steps. At this point, he had two blockers to lead his way that he really didn't need, as he raced the final ten yards to the end zone ahead of any men in black jerseys.
It wasn't the final score of the half, with the Golden Eagles riding the shoulder of Mullens to the goal line before Ito Thomas punched in the touchdown to reach the first half score of 21-17.
Each team punted three times in the third quarter, but explosive plays allowed the Dawgs to score 10 and USM to score seven points in the midst of the battle of the punters. The Golden Eagles' score was aided by a Marvin Hall catch-and-fumble near midfield and a debatable pass interference foul against a suddenly struggling Sidney Jones. This isn't to take away from the ability of Mullens - he was terrific.
The stories will be written about Gaskin's touchdowns, and deservedly so, but Browning's connections with his seniors have rarely been better. Mickens had the aforementioned rushing score to go along with eight catches for 95 yards while Joshua Perkins pitched in down the seam with three catches of his own for 69 yards.
The fourth quarter featured Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl record-setter Myles Gaskin. Another touchdown and another 62 yards gave the true freshman a final tally of 181 yards on 26 carries to go along with his four TDs.
Final Instant Dots of the year:
- Southern Miss couldn't take down Gaskin with one defender, pretty much ever. He showed more power than the "thumper" Coleman. Did Southern Miss underestimate the power/balance combination he has? It didn't matter much.
- Browning's mobility will likely be forever underrated. He isn't going to run the zone read two or three times per drive. He isn't going to run QB draws. But he has the ability to move the pocket, the ability to make pass rushers miss, and the awareness of how to reach the first down marker. And his throw to Jaydon Mickens on the sideline was pretty good.
- Qualls needed to be rotated out and be used in short bursts, which is to be expected with him having not played since Halloween. When he was in, he was violent and powerful and in Mullens' face.
- Even Jones IV isn't perfect. On Thomas' second long play of the day, he beat Jones by a half step off the line and Mullens made what may have ended up with his best throw of the game with a dart down the sideline to his top threat, Michael Thomas. Jones as a whole struggled against Thomas. The two will see each other on Sundays, but Thomas got the best of the matchup with Jones and Gardenhire with nine catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns. He had more yards receiving that Gaskin did rushing.
- The run blocking left a lot to be desired for a large portion of the game. Coleman had a good run early, but for the most part Gaskin dealt with defenders in his way as soon as he touched the ball. It makes it difficult to be patient when your entire goal is just to make it back to the line of scrimmage. When he received good blocking he scored a touchdown, whether it was at the goalline or 86 yards from the goalline.