The maturation of junior quarterback Nick Mullens is one thing that many people did not see coming.
From a two-star prospect in Hoover, Alabama, to starting quarterback of a rejuvenated Southern Miss football team, Nick Mullens has had to fight for the spot that he has now. Even after throwing for a career-high 447 yards against Nebraska, he still has something to prove if you ask head coach Todd Monken.
“(Mullens) played well the last two weeks; now you have to play good this week,” Monken said. “You don’t carry over stats.”
Against Nebraska, Mullens had the most productive game of his young career. He went 26- of-41 for two touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a 171.1 quarterback rating. With those video game-like numbers, there isn’t much more that he could have done.
“I think there is a lot that he can still clean up,” offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. “He did do a nice job (against Nebraska), but we didn’t score enough points obviously to win the game.”
He followed up one of the better games of his career with another dominant performance in a 49-14 win over North Texas. Mullens completed 27-of-36 for 325 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another touchdown.
“It’s a mindset on how to control your mind when things go crazy,” Mullens said. “Right now, I believe I have a really good understanding of the offense.”
You wouldn’t expect Mullens to take the easy road, though. He has had to fight to even keep his spot on the team this year, with highly touted transfer quarterback Tyler Matthews nipping at his heels. Matthews came to Southern Miss after being one of the most coveted prospects coming out of the state of Kansas. Mullens has silenced all of the doubters who thought that Matthews would be a better option for the Golden Eagles.
Mullens sits at fifth in the country in passing yards, tied for sixth in touchdowns thrown and is 14th in quarterback rating. With all of the hype and recognition he is finally receiving, he actually is still more hungry than before.
“I try not to worry about the expectations,” Mullens said. “I really don’t favor getting caught up in all the stuff.”
Mullens has matured in a way that is usually not seen on the collegiate level. He first started as a true freshman against a ranked team in Nebraska back in 2013, struggling mightily in the early going. He was expected to take a big step forward a year ago in his first full season as the starter, but he struggled once again in an injury-riddled season.
“He has all the same traits he had two years ago,” Monken said. “He gets hurt against Louisiana Tech, and his foot was never the same.”
Mullens did come back later that season, but the Golden Eagle season was a lost cause.
USM finished with a mere 3-9 record. This year, they seek the respect that people lost for them due to a plethora of losses in recent seasons, and it all begins with the man under center.
“(Mullens) is a good player just like a lot of other guys around the country,” Lindsey said. “Those stats aren’t really that important the way that some people make it out to.”
Although Mullens has had a career year thus far, the team sits at 3-2. Granted, those losses have come at the hands of two Power Five programs, Mississippi State and Nebraska.
An argument can be made that Southern Miss could very well have been sitting at 5-0 on the season right now. Mullens is a huge reason why the Golden Eagles have been able to compete with those programs. “This is the closest group I’ve been around since I’ve been here,” Mullens said. “We believe and we know we have a chance to be really good.” After a dominant performance
against the Mean Green, it looks like this Mullens-led team is finally ready to compete for a Conference USA title once again.