BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - If you didn't already respect the toughness of Nick Mullens, you might need to go ahead and start doing so.
After seeing Mullens throw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against UTSA following a brutal thumb injury to the senior's throwing hand, Southern Miss first-year head coach Jay Hopson called it the most amazing thing from a quarterback he's seen.
"I remember the bone. I was sitting there and saw the bone pop out," Hopson said. "He said, 'Just push the bone back in and tape it. I'll see if I can throw the ball.' Of course, he couldn't, he was throwing a few balloon balls out there. The bottom line is that's the competitor in him and he fought through it when a lot of quarterbacks would've just said, 'Hey, I'm done. I got a bone through my hand, I can't throw the ball anymore. I'm done.'"
Mullens missed just five plays before returning for the following drive in the third quarter.
Even with the Golden Eagles trailing 48-24 in a game that was seemingly out of hand in the fourth quarter, Mullens completed a 33-yard touchdown to Chase Whitehead to finish off a 13-play, 86-yard drive.
Nearly a month after that 55-32 loss to the Roadrunners, Mullens suffered a concussion during USM's shocking 38-27 loss to Charlotte. He then sat out the Golden Eagles' 51-35 loss to Old Dominion despite dressing out in pregame warmups, and also stayed on the sidelines in a 29-23 loss at North Texas.
With possibly one game left in the season, Southern Miss needed a win over already-crowned Conference USA West Division champion Louisiana Tech to earn bowl eligibility. Not only did the Golden Eagles pull off a 39-24 victory over the Bulldogs, but Mullens produced one of the best games of his career, passing for 342 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while also rushing for a score.
"That shows you how tough Nick is," Hopson said. "He's really been injured since week six against UTSA. He just kept battling. He came out, I thought, against Louisiana Tech and played a tremendous football game."
Mullens' 87.9% completion rate (29 for 33) that game was second only to Austin Davis' 91.3% completion mark set in 2011 against Navy. Coincidentally, Mullens also passed Davis that game for most career touchdowns in Southern Miss history.
"Here's a young man that kept fighting and kept battling, and certainly came up big. Our team needed him that last game and he had a big game."
Only one goal remains for the guy who has been Southern Miss' starter since midway through his true freshman season -- winning a bowl game -- something USM hasn't done since a 24-17 victory over Nevada in the Hawai'i Bowl in 2011.