Monken: This is not a 'bowl vacation' - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Monken: This is not a 'bowl vacation'

DALLAS, TX (WLOX) -

During the opening press conference Wednesday leading up to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken was business as usual. The focused demeanors that he, senior wide receiver Mike Thomas, and senior defensive back Kalan Reed featured are the attitudes they've portrayed since arriving in Dallas.

They agree that it's the attitude they need to have going into their first-ever meeting with the Washington Huskies.

"When you're building to win the West [Division] and you're building to win the conference, we've got to make sure we don't think, 'Okay, our season's over, bowl trip, bowl vacation,'" said Monken, who was named Conference USA Coach of the Year. "No, it's a bowl game. That's what it is. We're trying to get to 10 wins, which hasn't been done very often at Southern Miss."

Teams from Conference USA are 3-0 all-time in Heart of Dallas Bowl games, scoring at least 30 points in all of them.

That shouldn't be a problem for Southern Miss (9-4), which is averaging 40.6 points per game this season. That's the 12th-best mark among FBS teams.

But in their only two games against Power Five conference members, the Golden Eagles failed to crack 30 points. That includes a 34-16 loss to Mississippi State in the season opener, and a 36-28 loss at Nebraska Sept. 26.

Pac-12 member Washington (6-6) features the 12th-best scoring defense, allowing just 17.8 points per game. 

In their six wins this year, the Huskies have surrendered just 8.2 points per game. However, in their six losses, they've given up more than 27 points per contest. 

The Southern Miss offense is a balanced attack that includes two 1,000-yard rushers -- senior Jalen Richard (1,098) and sophomore Ito Smith (1,088). 

Quarterback Nick Mullens has already broken a single-season school record with 36 touchdown passes, but Washington's 28th-ranked defense and a 100% chance of rain for Saturday's game could alter his passing plans.

One of his favorite targets on the field is Thomas, who leads the team with 1,201 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, and has hauled in a TD pass in each of his last nine games.

Thomas was a part of the 3-9 team last season, but noticed in the summer that this roster was worthy of a bowl game.

"[With] all the hard work that we put in during the summer time, I knew this was a different team," Thomas said. "Everybody was on board, everybody had one goal and that was a conference championship. We took it one week at a time. We never looked past a team and we just executed each week."

USM clinched the Conference USA West Division before losing 45-28 to Western Kentucky in the conference championship. 

Reed, who was a freshman on the 2012 team that lost all 12 games, also thought it was evident that this year's team was special.

"It was a completely different atmosphere the other three years that I've been here," said Reed, who leads Southern Miss with four interceptions and 19 pass breakups. "Everyone was ready to play, there was no complaining and everyone was ready to win."

Kickoff Saturday in Dallas is set for 1:20 p.m.

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