The Huskies, for the first time since 1991, rank as the best defense in the Pac-12, and they're matched up against a Southern Miss offense that has created the most explosive plays in college football this season.
For the first time since the famed 1991 defense led Washington to a national championship, the Huskies boast the best defense in the Pac-12 Conference.
The Huskies finished the regular season having allowed 17.8 points per game, 349.9 yards per game and 4.86 yards per play, all tops in the conference. Most impressively, UW’s defense had its best performance in a 45-10 Apple Cup victory, forcing seven turnovers and scoring three touchdowns of its own while holding Washington State to only one touchdown.
“That’s going to be one game that I never forget,” UW senior linebacker Travis Feeney said of his final game at Husky Stadium.
In Saturday’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Huskies (6-6) get one more chance to make this 2015 defensive unit a most memorable one. Southern Mississippi won’t make it easy.
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The Golden Eagles (9-4) rank 10th nationally in offense (519.8 yards), 11th in scoring (40.6 points) and No. 1 with 102 explosion plays of 20 yards or more. For perspective, that’s almost twice as many explosive plays than what UW’s offense (54 total) created this season.
UW’s defense has excelled at limiting such explosive plays, giving up just 49 of them during the regular season.
“They fling it around on offense and they make a lot of big plays,” Feeney said. “We have to be ready, we have to tackle and we all have to be on the ball. … We just have to be running around, man. Just having fun — doing what we normally do.”
Southern Miss junior quarterback Nick Mullens, named the Conference USA offensive player of the year, ranked in the top 10 nationally in passing with 318.8 yards.
The Huskies counter with a defense that allowed nine passing touchdowns in 12 regular-season games, the fewest in the Pac-12 since 2008 and the fewest by a UW defense since 1992 (when UW allowed eight passing TDs in 12 games).
As has been the case since August, when many wondered how UW would be able to replace three first-team All-Americans from the 2014 defense, the Huskies are carrying a quiet confidence into the bowl game.
“We’ve pretty much been running against their style of offense all year,” UW sophomore linebacker Keishawn Bierria said of the Golden Eagles. “We’ve seen it numerous times.”
The Huskies arrived in Dallas on Monday afternoon and had their first practice Tuesday on the SMU campus.
“Dallas, I’ve never been there personally; I’m sure it’s a lot of fun,” defensive back Kevin King said before UW’s departure. “But we’re going out there to win a game and we’re going down there to prepare like we’ve never prepared before, and we’ve got to prepare for Southern Miss better than we’ve prepared for anybody.”
NOTE: As of Tuesday afternoon, the Huskies had distributed between 1,300 to 1,400 tickets for bowl game; that tickets have proven to be a hard sell for Husky fans is certainly not a surprise. The UW athletic department had modest expectations for sales, considering the game’s location and that it will be played the morning after Christmas. The Huskies will be playing for the first time at the Cotton Bowl Stadium, which has a listed capacity of 42,000.