DALLAS (AP) — Southern Mississippi was coming off a 12-win season and Conference USA championship when cornerback Kalan Reed decided to join the Golden Eagles.
Unlike most everyone else in that 2012 signing class, Reed stayed through the ensuing 0-12 season and a coaching change. He gets to play his final game in a bowl at a historic site.
Conference USA runner-up Southern Miss (9-4) closes out its season Saturday against the Pac-12’s Washington (6-6) in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at Cotton Bowl Stadium.
“Kalan has stuck with it when a lot of our guys didn’t. As we tried to change over the culture and tried to change things and keep building, a lot of guys left,” third-year Southern Miss coach Todd Monken said. “Shame on them. They missed out on this unbelievable opportunity and team we had this year.”
Reed, who has 19 pass breakups and four interceptions as a senior, said he never considered leaving. But it was admittedly difficult going without a win as a freshman and being 4-32 overall his first three seasons at the school where Super Bowl quarterback Brett Favre played from 1987-90.
“We talked about turning the program around because it hasn’t been where we know it should be lately,” Reed said. “It means everything to get nine wins.”
Washington won its last two games to get bowl eligible. The Huskies are playing in their sixth different bowl over a six-season span after seven years without a postseason game, including their own 0-12 season in 2008.
“We didn’t know if we’d be going to a bowl. Really proud of our team to keep fighting and battling and get a chance to come to this historic place,” said coach Chris Petersen, wrapping up his second season with the Huskies after eight bowls in a row with Boise State. “And to get matched up with a really, really good opponent, I mean, that’s what bowl games are supposed to be about.”
Some things to watch in the sixth Heart of Dallas Bowl:
OFFENSIVE ERUPTION: After scuffling through the early part of the season, Washington’s offense scored 52 points against Oregon State and 45 against Washington State (though helped by three defensive touchdowns) in the final two games the Huskies had to win to become bowl eligible. The offensive improvement actually started in a loss at Arizona State on Nov. 14 when Washington had a season-high 547 total yards but committed four turnovers in the 27-17 loss.
RUNNING WILD: Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens and his 4,000-plus passing yards get a lot of the hype, but the Golden Eagles’ offense is just as reliant on a very effective running game. Jalen Richard (1,098 yards) and Ito Smith (1,088) make Southern Miss one of just two teams nationally with two 1,000-yard rushers — the other is Nevada.
MYLES AND MILES: Washington running back Myles Gaskin put in the finest season by a freshman in school history, rushing for 1,121 yards and 10 touchdowns even though he didn’t fully take over as the featured ball carrier until the fifth game. Gaskin closed the regular season rushing for at least 100 yards in his final three games and six of the last eight. He had 138 yards and two touchdowns against Washington State and now faces a Southern Miss defense that gave up just 141 yards per game on the ground.
SOME HISTORY: This is the first meeting ever between Washington and Southern Miss, though Petersen has faced the Golden Eagles four times — and beat them each time from 2007-13, the last a 60-7 win by Boise State in 2013.
SHUT-DOWN SECONDARY: Led by all-Pac-12 selections Budda Baker and Sidney Jones, Washington’s secondary became the backbone of a surprisingly strong defense. The Huskies led the Pac-12 in total defense (349.9 yards per game) and scoring defense (17.8) and was second in the conference at stopping the pass. Jones was tied for the conference lead with 13 passes defended and third with four interceptions.
AP Sports Writers Tim Booth and David Brandt contributed to this report.
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