Tempe, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - The Washington Huskies and Oklahoma State Cowboys will close out the Jan. 2 slate of bowl games as they clash head-to- head in the 26th annual TicketCity Cactus Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium.
Washington comes into the contest having won its last two games against Oregon State (37-13) and Washington State (31-13). The Huskies are 8-5 overall, and sport a 4-2 mark on the road. It's the fifth straight season in which Washington has participated in a bowl game, and the 35th in program history. This is the Huskies' first-ever appearance in the Cactus Bowl.
Oklahoma State suffered through a five-game losing streak toward the end of the regular season, and needed an overtime win over in-state rival Oklahoma (38-35) to qualify for a bowl game. This will be the Cowboys' ninth consecutive bowl game appearance, as the Pokes enter this game sporting a 16-9 record in bowl games all-time.
Washington and Oklahoma State have faced each other just twice in the all-time series between the sides, with each team winning once. The Huskies took the first matchup in 1980, and the Cowboys defeated Washington in the 1985 season opener at Husky Stadium.
Washington brings some of the most versatile players in the nation into this matchup with Oklahoma State. The Huskies have been a strong offensive team this season, averaging 30.8 ppg and 390.2 total offensive ypg in the 13 contests played. Quarterback Cyler Miles has proven to be a strong leader for the Huskies, having passed for 2,129 yards, 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions in 11 games. His 66.7 completion percentage and 144.2 passer efficiency rating are also strong indicators.
In the run game, Washington sports some unusual methods. Tailback Dwayne Washington leads the team this season with 655 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground, while Miles has added 280 yards and four touchdowns of his own in the run game. But Hornung Award winner and top linebacker Shaq Thompson also gets involved in the run game, having amassed 456 yards and a pair of scores on 61 carries.
Miles has spread the ball around heavily in the passing game, as only John Ross (four touchdowns) has more than three receiving scores. Jaydon Mickens leads the team entering the contest with 53 receptions, 535 yards and three touchdowns. Joshua Perkins also has hauled in three scores through the air in 11 games played.
Defense has been a strong suit for the Huskies this season, as they sport one of the best linebacking corps in the entire country. The team's defense allows opponents to score just 24.4 ppg this season, and has limited opposing run games to 121.9 rushing ypg. The last time Washington surrendered more than 27 points to an opponent was back on Nov. 8 against a potent UCLA team, which resulted in a 44-30 Huskies loss.
John Timu is the one who leads Washington in tackles this season, having registered 96 through 13 games. But strong performances from Danny Shelton (89 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks) and Andrew Hudson (14.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks) have helped boost the Huskies' pass rush threat. Hau'Oli Kikaha ranks second nationally in tackles for loss (24) and sacks (18), while Thompson topped the country with four defensive touchdowns. Those strong players will try to get after a tough Oklahoma State offense.
"I think (Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy) has done a wonderful job of building that program," Washington coach Chris Petersen said. "The whole thing - the facilities they have, where they've come from and what They're doing now I think is impressive."
Oklahoma State's offense wasn't unbelievably potent in 2014, averaging 27.4 ppg and 371.0 offensive ypg. But the Pokes were solid under the leadership of quarterback Daxx Garman, who threw for 2,041 yards, 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in nine games played. Garman is listed as questionable however, for the Cactus Bowl after suffering a concussion in the team's final game against Oklahoma. Three different quarterbacks have seen time this season in Garman, Mason Rudolph (four touchdown passes, three interceptions) and J.W. Walsh.
Running back Tyreek Hill was dismissed from the team following the regular season. Hill provided a sturdy backup option to Desmond Roland, who led the team on the ground in 2014 with 647 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 64.7 rushing ypg average. Roland and Hill combined to average over 100 ypg rushing, accounting for a large majority of the team's 135.3 yards per outing.
David Glidden led Oklahoma State with 40 reception this season, though the junior receiver only hauled in two scores in 12 games. James Washington was the one who topped the Cowboys in receiving touchdowns, making five scoring grabs over the course of the season. Brandon Sheperd (four touchdowns) and Jhajuan Seales (three touchdowns) also had sizeable roles in the receiving game.
Defense was an issue for most of the season for Oklahoma State, which allowed opponents to score 32.0 ppg this season. The team's defense struggled mightily to contain any opponent during the stretch of five consecutive losses, surrendering at least 34 points in four of those defeats and at least 42 points in three of them. The Pokes are giving up 437.2 offensive ypg as well, which has slowed them down.
Jordan Stearns leads the team with 98 tackles on the season, while Ryan Simmons has built up 93 tackles with 11 tackles for loss in 12 games played. Between Simmons, Josh Furman (12 tackles for loss, six sacks) and Emmanuel Ogbah (17 tackles for loss, 11 sacks), the Cowboys have some strong pieces there. But with just one fumble recovery all season long, Oklahoma State has been exceptionally poor at forcing turnovers. Still, the team is looking to overwhelm Washington Friday.
"We are extremely happy to be going to the TicketCity Cactus Bowl," said Gundy. "We should have awesome weather and it's a great bowl site. This will be a tremendous trip for our team and I'm really happy for our seniors."