Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl - Southern Miss post-game quotes
COACH TODD MONKEN: Well, my hat's off to Washington and their group. And they have a good football team. And they're playing offensively, later in the year, with a young quarterback, young running back. They will be really good. We just, obviously, didn't play our best defensively. Obviously, couldn't run in the second half, which hurt us, and you can't be balanced. That stung us a bit.
But with all that being said, unbelievable to be able to play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The hospitality was great. We wanted this bowl game, we wanted this opportunity, and I'm awfully proud of our team and our seniors for what they accomplished because it's a special group when your seniors, your leaders, your best players are your hardest workers, and that's what we have. We have our leaders, and our best players were our hardest workers. They've left quite an impression on all of us and a legacy that we have to live up to. They will always be revered, in my opinion, for bringing this back, our program back to start a new streak.
But, it stings. This is going to sting. We're good enough -- we're a good enough football team. We obviously have another step that we can take, but I'm awfully proud of this team and how far we've come. I'm obviously disappointed for our fans and our team. We weren't able to sing the fight song one last time for them and our seniors. All right.
MICHAEL THOMAS: Washington is a good team, but they could have been beaten and we didn't execute well enough on offense, and that hurt, and that hurt me as well, for my last game. So, we just -- we didn't just execute better so, we just, yeah, take it because we didn't execute well.
NICK MULLENS: First, I came to Southern Miss for these kind of opportunities for bowl games and championship games. So to be able to spend a week and get this opportunity is definitely awesome, especially with the group of guys that we have. We have one of the -- I'd like to see a team that's closer than us. We talked about it last night. We have a group of guys that love each other and fight for anything. You saw that at the last second. We weren't going to let them score. So, you know, we have a great team and, you know, it's unfortunate we had to end this way, but we gave it all we got. Washington is at a good team and you gotta give them credit it. But we had a great opportunity but we have to take one more step.
Q. You guys came in there and tied them and within 30 seconds. Here comes Gaskin. It looks like it was a tough play to rebound from. Can you talk about that?
COACH MONKEN: Sure. It was a game of momentum. You know, they had just turned it over, we drove down and scored, and all of a sudden, hey, we're tied. And we kick it off, and somehow miraculously it stays in-bounds and we get them pinned at the 14 and you think okay, here we go. And he makes a good play. He's a good player and we just didn't get him on the ground. That's what happens. We just didn't find a way to get him on the ground. And then we still had other opportunities. We had a couple dropped passes that stopped us that would have helped us out because it's a game about making plays, and we didn't make enough plays and we kind of unraveled there a little bit, couldn't move it and couldn't stop it, and that was a big play.
Q. You talk about defensively not being able to -- I know Brian Anderson and Cornell Armstrong, two starters. Where were they today?
COACH MONKEN: You know, I was anticipating this question. I tell the players all the time, discipline is the greatest form of love you can bestow upon anybody. That's the bottom line. And we had four players, I had to show them that love.
Q. Coach, you mentioned also not being able to run it and not having Jalen today was a big part of that. Would you agree with that?
COACH MONKEN: I don't know about that. Justice Hayes is a good player. You know, we brought him here from Michigan on a fifth year and it didn't work out for him. Him being here pushed our other players, our other running backs to be better. I don't know how much Jalen would have made a difference. That would be a discredit to Washington and their defense. They played them all out. And Ito Smith -- the last few weeks, Jalen really wasn't healthy then, and Ito was saying we'll run for yards. Do I wish we had Jalen? You bet. He's an All-Conference running back. But that had nothing to do with why we didn't run the ball today.
Q. You had nine receptions, 190 yards, two touchdowns, you average beat your season average. Can you just talk about your last game? Looked like you took an injury, some type of injury in the first half. Talk about the perseverance that you had.
NICK MULLENS: I had a tweaked ankle. But, to be honest, I don't care about stats because, at the end of the day, it's a team sport. As long as I do what I got to do to help my team win, I tried my best to help my team win, and we fell short. I did what I had to do, but my team lost. So I'm disappointed. At the end of the day, I don't care about stats.
Q. How do you think Coach Wozniak did with his first game as offensive coordinator?
COACH MONKEN: Did fine. There were no issues with communication. It's the same offense. Is he going to call it the same way as Chip would have or I would have or anybody else? No. But he was fine. We didn't have -- you know, what you want to see is, when you get the plays called and we get the personnel in there, are we functioning, which we were. We just -- we didn't run the ball well enough and we had some costly drops that hurt us. When your margin for error against a really good opponent is really small, and that's really what it comes down to is making plays, making tackles, turnovers, explosive plays when you have a chance. We just didn't make enough of them tonight.
Q. Nick and Mike, it seemed like a big-time situation. Can you talk about what you were able to do late in the season and today?
NICK MULLENS: Mike's one heck of a player. Anybody who watched our team noticed that. And he's become a great player because he worked hard. And we worked tirelessly in the off-season, and it obviously paid off this year. This game, you know, he had a great game. Obviously, I can trust him on the outside to make plays. Every time when it's one-on-one manned coverage, I'm looking to get him the ball because I know he will win every time. And you saw that today. Just a good player. We put Mike in position to make plays, but I'm not locked in on Mike on every play; it's just how it happens that the play gives us that opportunity and Mike makes the play. And that's what you want. You want receivers you can count on, and that's what we've had all along.
Q. Coach, with this being your seniors' last time to play with you, what do you hope that they have taken away from their time with you in the program as they head into the next phase of their adult life?
COACH MONKEN: That's a great question. I've always -- 27 years of coaching, I've never forgotten that I have a job to grow players; that's my job is to try to create the best version we can of our players. And people get tired of hearing me say that, but I really believe that that that's our job. Everybody in the organization should feel that way. That from the first string guy to the third and fourth string guy, I hope they say the same things. Sure, their role may not be the same, but they would think, from top to bottom, that we tried everything we can to help them achieve all their dreams. And I'm proud of them.
I'm proud of this guy here. We wouldn't be the team we are without him and the seniors that we had this past year. I hope they left here feeling like we all did it better this year. Starting with me and our staff and them, we did it better. We made a collective decision in December, starting with me, how we could do it better. And that's what I will always take. And I was hopeful that we could get to that point to where we're at right now. We will miss those seniors, but what they left in terms of how hard they worked has been tremendous.
Q. Nick, you said you worked hard in Dallas. I know that’s a loss to those teams, but how was the experience of all the events this week and being able to play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl?
NICK MULLENS: It was awesome. I had a great week. It's my first bowl game. Like I said, it's why I came here. We were taken care of as players. As college athletes, you want to work hard for rewards and opportunities. And, like Coach Monken says, bowl games are rewards for the players. They're hard work, they deserve a reward, and that's what we got this week. It obviously hurts to lose, but the overall trip to Dallas, you know, it's memories I'll never forget. I mean, it's awesome. We played the game with your teammates. You love them, and it's really a great opportunity.