After a 55-14 loss to East Carolina Oct. 19, first-year head coach Todd Monken named true freshman Nick Mullens the starting quarterback for the Homecoming game against North Texas.
Mullens, an 18-year-old, 188-pound graduate of Spain Park High School in Hoover, Ala., completed nine of 17 passes against ECU for 97 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Playing behind a young and inexperienced offensive line, Mullens still managed to lead the team effectively on a couple of scoring drives.
“What Nick [Mullens] showed us Saturday was his ability to create when things break down,” Monken said in his weekly press conference. “Whether or not Allan [Bridgford] had that ability and then over time got beat up and is not able to do that now, the bottom line is we need a spark.”
Monken said that he and his staff had planned on playing Mullens against ECU for some time.
“Like any position, we’re constantly trying to assess who gives us the best chance to win,” Monken said.
Before coming to Southern Miss, Mullens had tremendous success at Spain Park High School. He led the Jaguars to 10 wins and their first regional title in school history. That year he threw for 3,649 yards and 40 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions.
Mullens also played quarterback for the Alabama squad in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game, in which he threw eight passes for 156 yards to lead all quarterbacks. After the game, he was given the award for “Best Arm,” and he was also named the Gatorade 2012 Alabama Football Player of the Year.
When asked about being named the starting quarterback for the North Texas game, Mullens said, “Of course (I’m) thrilled about it. I mean, it’s a great opportunity to come out and represent Southern Miss, but at the same time you got to keep a level head and just worry about football, and that’s what I’m doing.”
For Mullens, there is comfort in knowing that the Southern Miss offense is somewhat similar to the type of offense he led at Spain Park High School. Monken said the similarity in offenses has enabled Mullens to be further ahead than fellow freshman Parker Adamson.
“It was a lot easier for [Mullens] to come in and grasp the offense,” Monken said. “That’s given him an opportunity to have success. [Mullens] is a naturally-confident guy. He has a way about him. He does have a factor of getting the guys going – the ‘it’ factor I guess is what everyone calls it.”
After making two touchdowns in the ECU game, the new starting quarterback feels his confidence has boosted enormously.
“The more playing time you get, the more comfortable you get.” Mullens said. “And so East Carolina really helped me. I know what it’s like being out there so I think the nerves will be cool on Saturday, and I’m just really excited for it.”