Cactus Bowl preview: Defense gives Huskies edge against Cowboys
Cactus Bowl: Washington (8-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)
Kickoff: 7:15 p.m. Friday
Site: Sun Devil Stadium (Tempe, Ariz.)
Radio: 710 ESPN Seattle
Line: Washington by 6.5
At a glance: Playing in their fifth straight bowl, the Huskies are making their first postseason appearance with Chris Petersen at the helm. With a win, Washington would notch its second straight nine-win season, which would be only its second such record since 2000. The Dawgs have momentum, too, coming off an impressive three-game stretch where the offense finally found its footing in blowout wins over WSU and Oregon State and a near upset of then-No. 14 Arizona. Oklahoma State is making its ninth straight bowl appearance and 12th in 13 years, but it needed a 38-35 overtime win over then-No. 20 Oklahoma in its regular season finale just to become eligible. The Cowboys also ended the season on somewhat of a roll, though, as freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph gave the offense a shot in the arm in their last two games after taking over for injured junior Daxx Garman.
Matchup to watch: UW tailback Dwayne Washington vs. the Oklahoma State run defense. Every good offensive performance from the Huskies this season has come with a big game out of at least one running back, and sophomore Washington has been the go-to rusher in their last three games. After running for just 272 yards through UW’s first 10 games (including a pair he missed due to injury), Washington exploded for three straight 100-yard games, totaling 383 yards, five touchdowns and a 7.8 yards per carry average over that stretch. Though freshman Lavon Coleman, senior Deontae Cooper and perhaps even junior two-way star Shaq Thompson could all get a few series as the featured back, Washington is the guy Oklahoma State will have to deal with the most. The Cowboys will have their hands full trying to shut him down, too. They haven’t had much success stopping the run game, averaging 168 rushing yards allowed per game, 46.1 more than the Huskies.
Key for Washington: Eliminate the big plays. The Huskies have been stingy all year on defense, but the vast majority of that is due to their ability to stop the run and pressure the quarterback. That’s because the most of their experience and talent is on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps, where they have playmakers like Andrew Hudson, Danny Shelton, John Timu, Thompson and unanimous All-American Hau’oli Kikaha. The secondary is a much different story, however, where the Dawgs have two sophomores and two freshmen in the starting lineup. They’ve been prone to giving up the occasional big pass play, and their average of 283.9 passing yards allowed per game is the only real problem the defense has had this season. It’s the sort of Achilles’ heel that Oklahoma State can take advantage of, too. While the Cowboys aren’t especially dangerous on offense, their 235.7 passing yards per game is serviceable, and Rudolph has been even better than that, passing for 281 and 273 yards, respectively, in his two games this season.
Prediction: The Husky defense will be the story of this game. As bad as the secondary has been, the pass rush and run defense has been incredible, and the Cowboys have a weak offensive line that will be exploited all day long. That combined with an offense that finally found its identity in November will allow the Dawgs to pick up a comfortable win to cap off a nine-win campaign. Washington 35, Oklahoma State 13.