Offensive Game Ball Goes To: Myles Gaskin
Is there any way it could be anyone else? In addition to finishing the season with the Washington program's best-ever true freshman totals of 1,302 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, Gaskin turned in the third-best bowl performance for any Husky running back by parlaying his 26 carries into 181 yards and four touchdowns. Predictably, he earned player of the game honors, and will likely be a popular name on next year's preseason all-conference ballots.
Defensive Game Ball Goes To: Elijah Qualls
As is often the case with defensive linemen, Qualls' numbers don't jump off of the stat sheet: two tackles, including one sack for a loss of three yards. He consistently blew up at the point of attack and was a general source of havoc for the Golden Eagles along the line of scrimmage. Thanks to Qualls and his fellow members of the front seven, the Huskies limited Southern Miss to gaining just 11 percent of their average rushing total (more on that in a minute) and rendered one of the most dangerous offenses in America completely one-dimensional.
Most important play: Gaskin's 86-yard scamper
With 5:30 left to play in the third quarter and down by seven, Southern Miss's Kalan Reed created the game's biggest momentum shift by forcing and recovering a fumble off of a Marvin Hall reception. Seven plays and less than three minutes later, the Golden Eagles had punched the ball in for a touchdown and tied the score at 24 apiece. On the very next play from scrimmage, Myles Gaskin and his blockers snatched that momentum back by carrying the ball nearly the length of the field for the first six points of a 17-0 run that would effectively put the game out of reach for Washington's opponent.
Most Important Statistic: 0.7 (Southern Miss' yards-per-carry average)
The Golden Eagles came into Saturday's bowl contest having earned an average of 191.9 rushing yards per game. In particular, they ended the regular season on something of a hot streak, having tallied 638 yards and 12 rushing scores in their final three games. For Washington to hold them, then, to 22 yards on 30 carries is nothing short of impressive. One of UW's keys to the game was their need to consistently win their battles at the line of scrimmage, and holding Southern Miss to 170 yards under their per-game average certainly qualifies as a victory in that regard.
Most Encouraging Takeaway: Huskies seized their opportunity to step on the gas and put their opponent away
In his first two seasons, Chris Petersen's Huskies had more than a few instances in which they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Think back to Deontae Cooper's fumble and the infamous Chart debacle of 2014 against Arizona; blowing a 17-0 lead this season against the Sun Devils; and a completely disheartening flat and emotionless start to last season's Cactus Bowl matchup against Oklahoma State. Such disappointments are usually a mark of young and immature teams that lack the ability to capitalize on their opportunities to put the game out of reach; it is very encouraging, then, to see the young Huskies flash their killer instinct and put away a talented Southern Miss team when they had the chance. Nick Mullens and Mike Thomas made it clear early on that they would make the Heart of Dallas Bowl a competitive game, and it is a great sign for the maturation of the team that they showed an ability to get punched in the mouth, stand tall, and deliver a knockout blow of their own.
Biggest Source of Frustration: Defensive secondary had no answer for Mike Thomas
In the ranking of single player performances in recent history against the Huskies, Southern Miss receiver Mike Thomas certainly made a case for etching his name near the top of the list. The 6-1, 200 lb. target became one of just two players to record multiple touchdown receptions against Washington this year (the other being Oregon's Darren Carrington, who scored twice on five receptions for 125 yards), and his 190 receiving yards was the most by a Husky opponent since Cal's Keenan Allen hauled in 10 catches for 197 yards and a TD against Nick Holt's famously anemic defense in 2011. It is entirely likely that much of his success against a previously stingy Husky secondary can be attributed to Kevin King's absence from the game, but it is worrisome that much of his production came against all-conference cornerback Sidney Jones and fellow starter Darren Gardenhire. Washington's pass defense grew by gigantic leaps and bounds this year relative to 2014, but make no mistake, this performance will leave a sour taste in the mouths of Jimmy Lake, Pete Kwiatkowski, and their players throughout the impending offseason.