Cactus Bowl Preview: Washington vs. Oklahoma State
Reason to watch: Washington will look to close the first year of coach Chris Petersen’s tenure on a three-game winning streak. The Huskies’ path here was neither surprising nor disappointing, as they beat every unranked team they faced and lost to every ranked one. That track record could be viewed as a sign that Washington is on the verge of a breakthrough, or that it’s a cut below the nation’s top teams. Like the Huskies, Oklahoma State finished the regular season by winning its rivalry game. However, the Cowboys’ win over then-No. 20 Oklahoma was more impressive than the Huskies’ win over unranked Washington State. The victory marked the second consecutive start for freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph, who could stoke more excitement heading into next season with a strong outing.
Keep an eye on: Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson. The junior didn’t receive as much attention as he deserved for blossoming into one of the nation’s best all-around players. Consider what Thompson did on both sides of the ball this season: On defense, he recorded 71 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and returned three fumbles and an interception for a touchdown. On offense, Thompson rushed for 456 yards and two touchdowns at 7.5 yards per carry and recorded 56 receiving yards. Given his body of work, it’s no surprise the junior won the Paul Hornung Award given to the nation’s most versatile player. Perhaps Petersen will consider letting Thompson throw a pass against the Cowboys.
Did you know: Oklahoma State ranks 113th nationally in turnover margin, 105 spots lower than Washington. That doesn’t bode well for a Cowboys team that will need to protect Rudolph from senior linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha (18 sacks), senior defensive end Andrew Hudson (11.5) and senior nose tackle Danny Shelton (nine). In addition, Washington ranks second in the Pac-12 with 12 interceptions, while Rudolph has thrown three picks over his two starts. The Cowboys acquitted themselves well in previous games against superior opponents, including a seven-point loss to then-No. 1 Florida State on Aug. 30 and the win over Oklahoma, but they'll have to take care of the ball to beat the Huskies.
Final analysis: Oklahoma State will need its offensive playmakers to step up after standout return man Tyreek Hill was dismissed from the team following his arrest in a domestic violence case. Rudolph should be able find holes in Washington’s green secondary -- all four starters are either freshmen or sophomores -- but that won’t happen if the Cowboys’ offensive line can’t keep Rudolph upright against Washington’s imposing front. While Oklahoma State’s defense hasn’t been nearly as impressive, don’t overlook end Emmanuel Ogbah (11 sacks, 17 tackles for loss), a first-team all-Big 12 performer who was named the conference’s defensive lineman of the year. The sophomore could disrupt Washington’s offense by applying pressure on mobile quarterback Cyler Miles.
The pick: Washington 30, Oklahoma State 24