December 23, 2014

Oklahoma State needed a miracle play in its last game to clinch bowl eligibility.

It got the play. The Cowboys no longer have the player.

They'll be without Tyreek Hill when they face Washington in the Cactus Bowl on Friday night in Tempe, Arizona.

Trailing Oklahoma by a touchdown with under a minute to play Dec. 6, Hill returned a punt 92 yards for the tying score, setting up the Cowboys (6-6) to win 38-35 in overtime. Two days later, Hill was named to the AP All-Big 12 team.

The good feelings, however, were short lived. Hill was arrested and charged with punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend Dec. 12 and was subsequently dismissed from the team.

''You come off of a certain feeling and you have an incident like this, and it just makes it extremely difficult,'' coach Mike Gundy said. ''The energy level we got from that game has not been diminished, but it was just a shot in the gut for all of us. It's hard on the players now."

Hill's dismissal marked the low point in a rollercoaster season. The Cowboys opened with a near-victory over then-No. 1 Florida State before winning their next five games. That momentum disappeared when they reached the heart of the Big 12 schedule, as Oklahoma State lost five in a row before defeating the Sooners to gain bowl eligibility for the ninth consecutive year.

Washington (8-5) enters its fifth straight bowl game under more positive circumstances. The Huskies beat Washington State 31-13 on Nov. 29 to give Chris Petersen his 100th career victory and ninth straight season of at least eight wins.

''Nothing's easy early on and it takes a while, like we talk about, this process," Petersen said about his team's finish to the season. "You can't snap your fingers. They don't just get it. They haven't ever backed down and it's just starting to come together."

All of Washington's losses came against teams that were ranked at the time, while each of its victories were over opponents that finished at .500 or worse.

They have excelled at creating defensive pressure, sitting near the top of the FBS with 49 sacks, 27 forced turnovers and nine defensive/return touchdowns.

Defensive tackle Danny Shelton, linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha and linebacker/running back Shaq Thompson were named All-Americans, making Washington one of two schools with three players on the All-America first team, joining Florida State.

"Washington is a good football team," Gundy said. "They've lost to five good teams, good opponents. They are very well coached ... Defensively, they've done some scheming, depending on who they've played. They got a couple players that are very, very highly regarded. They can run, tackle, can blitz, can make some plays."

Thompson, who earned All-American honors as an all-purpose player, averaged 7.5 yards per carry in six games this season. However, he hasn't recorded an offensive statistic in three games since rushing for 100 yards on 16 carries in a 44-30 loss to UCLA on Nov. 8.

Redshirt sophomore Dwayne Washington shouldered the rushing load toward the end of the season, topping 100 yards in each of the last three contests and finishing the year with nine touchdowns.

''It's been a mindset with Dwayne the last couple of weeks. ... I could just see it,'' Huskies quarterback Cyler Miles said of Washington following the win over Washington State. ''Dwayne has been improving off the field and on. It's not really a surprise for me at all.''

Oklahoma State is led offensively by freshman QB Mason Rudolph. He made his second start of the season against Oklahoma and went 19 of 35 for 273 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Rudolph has taken the reins from Daxx Garman, who threw 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in nine contests.

"He wants to be the guy to make that play," Gundy said of Rudolph.

With Hill gone, the Cowboys' ground game will center around Desmond Roland. He failed to reach the 100-yard mark in a game this season and averaged only 3.8 per carry, but ran for 10 touchdowns.

Oklahoma State has previously appeared in this game, once known as the Insight Bowl. The Cowboys beat Indiana 49-33 in it Dec. 31, 2007, and are 5-3 in bowls under Gundy.

They lost 41-31 to Missouri in last season's Cotton Bowl, snapping a three-game bowl winning streak.

The Huskies defeated BYU 31-16 in the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl.

Washington and Oklahoma State have not met since 1985 and have played only twice, with each team winning once.

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