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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) – Still not bowl-eligible thanks to a five-game losing streak, Oklahoma State trailed rival Oklahoma by two touchdowns on the road, leaving about 8 minutes in what would have been arguably the most disappointing season under coach Mike Gundy.
Instead of shrinking away from the challenge, the Cowboys fought their way out of it, pulling out an overtime victory that earned them a spot in the Cactus Bowl against Washington.
“I was telling everybody, there’s only so much you can back somebody into the corner, eventually we’re going to come out swinging and fighting,” Oklahoma State defensive tackle James Castleman said. “I think that’s what we showed, especially in the OU game; came out fighting, ended up clinching that bowl spot.”
The young Cowboys played defending national champion Florida State close in their opener and reeled off five confidence-building wins to open 5-1.
Then the bottom dropped out. Oklahoma State was blown out by TCU and followed with four more losses by 21 points or more.
The Cowboys (6-6) salvaged a ninth consecutive bowl appearance with the victory over Oklahoma. They tied it on Tyreek Hill’s 92-yard punt return with 45 seconds left, then won 38-35 in overtime on Ben Grogan’s 21-yard field goal.
But as they head into Friday’s game at Sun Devil Stadium, the Cowboys will have to face a tough Washington team without Hill, who was dismissed from the team after being arrested and charged with punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend.
Hill combined for over 800 yards rushing and receiving, and was a dangerous threat on kick returns, as the Sooners found out.
“He drew a lot of attention and he made a lot of plays in space, So to say you can put somebody else in his position would be inaccurate,” Gundy said. “He’s not here, but we have a plan for that based on what our strengths are. But you can’t really replace a guy that has the speed and escapability that Tyreek has.”
The Cowboys will need everyone they can get against Washington.
The Huskies (8-5) had a decent first season under Chris Petersen, winning the most games under a first-year coach in school history despite some midseason struggles.
Washington did it behind a defense that’s among the most disruptive in the country.
Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton and Hau’oli Kikaha were all first-team All-Americans and led a defense that led the nation with seven defensive touchdowns. The Huskies were third with 3.77 sacks per game, fifth with 15 fumbles recovered and 16th with 27 turnovers gained.
Washington had its five losses in a span of seven games once the Pac-12 season started, but beat Oregon State and Washington State to earn its fifth bowl berth in six seasons.
“To be able to win your last game, even if you’re not going to a bowl game, means a little something,” Petersen said. “Certainly if you are going to a bowl game, to get that last one I think is really important to everybody.”
A few more things to look for when Oklahoma State faces Washington in the Cactus Bowl:
PROTECTING RANDOLPH: Oklahoma State has had trouble protecting the quarterback this season, allowing 37 sacks, and will start freshman Mason Rudolph for the third time after he replaced Daxx Garman. Rudolph has made a few freshman mistakes, but led the Cowboys’ back from the 14-point deficit against Oklahoma in the Bedlam game. Keeping him safe against Washington’s attacking defense will likely determine whether Oklahoma State can win the Cactus Bowl.
TRICK PLAYS: Petersen ran plenty of trick plays during his days at Boise State — the Statue of Liberty in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was the most memorable — and has carried his risk-taking ways with him to Washington. The plays haven’t always worked, like the failed fake punt in a loss to Stanford, but it’s definitely something the Cowboys will have to pay attention to.
SHAQ ATTACK: Thompson won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player and it’s easy to see why. The junior is listed as a running back, but stepped in to play running back due to injuries midway through the season, rushing for 456 yards and a pair of touchdowns in three games. He went back to playing linebacker the final three games of the season, but could show up anywhere on the field at almost any time.
(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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