Quez Watkins was named the Southern Miss’ MVP Saturday afternoon in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl after he caught nine passes for 154 yards and one touchdown in the Golden Eagles’ 30-13 loss to Tulane in Fort Worth.
Watkins’ performance tied him for second in receptions and third in receiving yards in the 17-year bowl history.
Not only was the 6-foot-3, 190-pound redshirt junior wide receiver today’s starfor Southern Miss, but Watkins had one of the best seasons in school history. Watkins caught 64 passes for 1,178yards and six touchdowns this season. His receiving yards ranks third in a single season in school history behind Mike Thomas (1,391 in 2015) and Sherrod Gideon (1,186 in 1998).
Watkins, from Athens, Ala., moved into second place in career receptions(159), career yards (2,404) and career 100-yard games (10). Gideon, who played from 1996-98, is first in all three categories.
Watkins had his MVP performance despite two other offensive stars for the Golden Eagles going down with injuries in the first half. Running back-wide receiver De’Michael Harris and quarterback Jack Abraham both were injured in the second quarter and neither returned to the game.
Southern Miss got off to a great start.On third-and-17 on Southern Miss’ first drive of the game, Abraham completed a 44-yard touchdown pass to Watkins, who caught the pass in the middle about five yards beyond the line of scrimmage and he raced across the field and down the sideline for the score for a 6-0 lead with 12 minutes, seconds to play in the first quarter.
Even without Harris and Abraham playing in the second half – in addition missing injured starting receiver JaylondAdams for the entire game – Watkins caught four passes for 96 yards, all from backup quarterback Tate Whatley.
Southern Miss got off to a great start. Abraham completed 5 of 7 passes for 68 yards and finished the first drive with his 44-yard TD pass to Watkins. Then on the Eagles’ second possession, Abraham completed 5 of 7 passes for 74 yards and ran for a 3-yard TD for a 13-0 lead with 5:23 to go in the first quarter. But the injury to Harris and Abraham slowed down Southern Miss and Tulane closed the lead to 13-6 at halftime and took over the momentum and the lead. Tulane scored 30 straight points.
“It was a rough third quarter for us. We just had a couple of injuries that hurt us offensively,” Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson said. “I give Tulane all the credit as well, they did what they need to do to win. They made plays, we certainly had a few errors. Statistically it was close to us, they made plays when they had to and I thought we were playing well at first, but we couldn’t just get it going after midway through the second quarter.”
Abraham, a 6-foot, 204-pound junior from Oxford, completed 17 of 23 passes for 167 yards and one TD pass and one TD run before he left with a bruised shoulder on a sack on Southern Miss’ final offensive play of the first half. He ranked 11th in the nation in completion percentage with 67.5 percent going into the game. Abraham, who led the nation in completion percentage last season, passed for 3,496 yards and 19 TD passes this season. He tied Austin Davis (20110) for the second most passing yards in a season. Nick Mullens, now the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, has the school record with 4,476 yards in 2015.Abraham verbally committed to Tulane while in high school, but head coach Curtis Johnson was fired. Abraham de-committed and signed with Louisiana Tech. He transferred to Northwest Community College after one season at La Tech. After one season at NorthwestCommunity College, Abraham signed with Southern Miss.
“Jack has been an outstanding leader for us for the last two years,” Hopson said. “He has represented ourfootball team well for the last two years. He has been a student of the game and as a head coach you feel blessed to have a quarterback like that.”
Hopson, a Warren Central High and Ole Miss alumnus, led Southern Miss to its third bowl game in his four seasons as head coach in Hattiesburg. He also led the Eagles to a fourth consecutive winning season, going 7-6 in 2016, 8-5 in 2017, 6-5 in 2018 and 7-6 this season. And counting his last three seasons at Alcorn State, Hopson now has had seven consecutive winning seasons.
“Going to a bowl game is always a big deal,” Hopson said. “Nothing hurts worse than when the season ends and you don’t go bowling. That is always a tough bill to swallow. It is a nice reward for the kids as they always work hard. It is players, coaches, and certainly a momentum builder as you get a fewmore practices. For the program it is always a boost.”
Tri-County Academy alumnus Swayze Bozeman, a junior linebacker, tied for the team high with eight tackles.He also forced a fumble and combined for a sack. Bozeman finished the season with 57 tackles, fourth best on the team.