Taniela Tupou has family in Texas, and they made the trip to Seattle two weeks ago to watch the fifth-year senior defensive tackle play his final home game for the Washington Huskies.
Now, Tupou will make a return trip with the rest of his Huskies teammates.
Washington (6-6) accepted an invitation Sunday to play in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles on Dec. 26 (11:20 a.m. PST, ESPN).
There is a good bit of unfamiliar territory involved there — it will be UW’s first game against Southern Miss, and the first time that either team has played at Cotton Bowl stadium.
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Asked about his familiarity with the area, Tupou cited the Dallas Cowboys, the powerhouse Trinity High School football program in nearby Euless, Texas, and, of course, Whataburger, the popular fast food chain.
“Other than that, I don’t really know much about it,” Tupou said. “I’ve been down there a few times with family. There’s a huge Tongan population down there in Dallas, so I’m excited to go back down there.”
Huskies coach Chris Petersen noted that he coached against Southern Miss while at Boise State — four times, actually, with Petersen’s Broncos winning each game — though he’s only faced current Golden Eagles coach Todd Monken once.
That game, a 60-7 victory for Boise State, came in 2013, Monken’s first season at Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles finished 1-11 that year and won just three games in 2014.
But they made drastic improvements in Monken’s third year, winning Conference USA’s West division before losing to Western Kentucky in the league championship game. They enter the bowl game with a 9-4 record.
Petersen described Southern Miss as a program on the rise. Monken, during a teleconference, said a game against a Power 5 conference team like Washington is like “a measuring stick” for the Golden Eagles.
It should be an entertaining matchup, given the teams’ respective strengths.
Southern Miss ranks eighth nationally in offensive yards per play (7.01) and are tied for 12th with Houston in scoring offense (40.6 points per game), while the Huskies have the No. 12 scoring defense in the country (17.8 points per game allowed).
“We’re looking forward to it,” Petersen said. “I know what type of coach he is, and I know the talent level that program has. We’re excited to play another game.”
CHOATE TO REMAIN FOR BOWL GAME
Petersen said defensive line coach and special-teams coordinator Jeff Choate, who recently accepted the head coaching job at Montana State, will remain in his current position at UW through the bowl game.
“He’ll be doing double-duty, and he needs double-duty. He’s that guy who can probably do triple-duty,” Petersen said. “It’s hard to keep him pinned down in one spot anyway, so it’ll be good for him with all the other things that he’s thinking.”
Choate’s departure will leave a void, Petersen said, but also, “I can’t tell you how happy we are for him. I don’t think there’s a better job, a more perfect fit than that job. As long as I’ve known him, he’s never wanted to be the head coach at the University of Washington. He’s wanted to be the head coach at Montana State or one of those schools. That’s where really he sees himself. That’s his vision for what he wants to do with his life.
“When that opportunity came up, we were so excited that he got this, because I think it’s a slam dunk for Montana State, and I think he’s going to be really good.”
NEW VISION FOR WIDE RECEIVERS
Petersen said the decision to fire Huskies receivers coach Brent Pease after two seasons was made in an effort to bring “a new vision” and “a new energy” to Washington’s wide receiver group.
The university announced the move Friday.
“At the end of the day, every coach, including myself, is evaluated on the performance of the guys on the field,” Petersen said. “That’s not the only thing, but do we think we can take a step there? And is the performance what it needs to be? That’s no different for me and we think we all have more to us on this deal, and we think we’re heading in the right direction, but we’ve got to get to the right destination — not just head in that direction.”