DALLAS (AP) — Chris Petersen’s young Washington team grew up late this season, closing with a victory Saturday in the Heart of Dallas Bowl for a winning record.
Myles Gaskin broke a third-quarter tie with an 86-yard run and finished with a season-high 181 yards and four touchdowns to help Washington beat Southern Mississippi 44-31 at the Cotton Bowl.
The Huskies (7-6) won their last two regular-season games by a combined 97-17 over Oregon State and Washington State to become bowl eligible and then delivered Petersen’s first postseason victory in his two seasons at Washington. The Huskies started 12 freshmen and sophomores with 25 of them on their two-deep depth chart.
“I don’t think you can say we’re a young football team anymore,” Petersen said. “We’ve played a lot of football. I think we’ve gotten better in the latter part of the season, and I’m really proud of them.”
The game was played in overcast conditions with a 20-mph wind. It rained during parts of the second half as the Dallas area was placed under a tornado watch that became a tornado warning as the teams were boarding their buses to leave the stadium.
Gaskin’s other scores came on 2- and 1-yard runs in the first quarter and a 13-yarder in the fourth. On the 86-yarder, the freshman took a handoff inside, broke to the left sideline and shook off one final defender at the Southern Miss 35.
Gaskin, the game’s most valuable player, gained 170 yards in the second half on 17 carries after being held to 11 yards on nine rushes in the first half. His previous high was 155 yards against Oregon.
“When he gets the ball, everything goes in slow motion,” Petersen said. “When he gets space, those little legs have more in them than you think.”
Gaskin agreed with Petersen that he took great advantage of his blocking.
“It starts with the O-line,” he said. “Receivers don’t get a lot of love on blocks. But they were blocking, too, out there.”
The Golden Eagles (9-5) were seeking their first win over a Power 5 conference team since 2011. Even with the loss, they tied Washington State for the greatest improvement this season. Each went from three wins to nine.
“This is going to sting,” Southern Miss coach Todd Monken said. “We obviously have another step that we can take.”
Southern Miss played without rushing leader Jalen Richard. A Southern Miss official said Richard, one of two Golden Eagles with 1,000 yards rushing this season, was held out because of an unspecified injury.
Nick Mullens threw touchdowns passes of 56 and 27 yards by Michael Thomas for the Eagles, and Ito Smith added 1- and 2-yard scoring runs. Thomas had 9 catches for 190 yards.
The Golden Eagles averaged 519.8 yards during the regular season, including their 45-28 loss to Western Kentucky in the Conference USA championship game. On Saturday, they gained 375. They were held to 22 net rushing yards with Smith, who gained 1,088 during the season, leading the way with 40.
Gaskin’s 86-yard run was the sixth-longest in school history. It came on Washington’s first play from scrimmage after Southern Miss recovered a fumble near midfield to set up Smith’s second touchdown run that tied it at 24.
Receiver Jaydon Mickens scored Washington’s other touchdown on a 29-yard run in the second quarter. Mickens took a handoff on what appeared to be an end around following a fake inside, then cut inside and was virtually untouched. The five-play, 65-yard drive included a 20-yard pass to Mickens that was upheld after a challenge from Southern Miss.
Smith’s 1-yard touchdown plunge through the middle followed a 36-yard catch by Thomas along the left sideline just short of the pylon.
That 80-yard drive was kept alive by punter Tyler Sarrazin’s 22-yard pass to Curtis Mikell on fourth-and-5 at the Golden Eagles 25. In Southern Miss’ win at Rice in mid-November, Sarrazin threw for a touchdown off a fake field-goal attempt.
Washington was invited to fill the slot appropriated for the Big 12 Conference, which didn’t have enough bowl-eligible teams.