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TicketCity Cactus Bowl primer: Oklahoma State vs. Washington

1/2/2015

Both Washington and Oklahoma State underwent tumultuous runs during the middle of their 2014 seasons. After getting off to a 5-1 start, the Huskies lost four of five to fall out of the Pac-12 title picture. Likewise, the Cowboys got off to a 5-1 start, before dropping five in a row.

Yet despite the midseason struggles, both squads bounced back to finish strong. Washington hammered Oregon State, then Washington State in the Apple Cup. The Cowboys too knocked off their rival, stunning Oklahoma with a comeback overtime win in Norman.

Which team will keep the surge going in TicketCity Cactus Bowl?

Pac-12 reporter David Lombardi and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter break down the matchup below:

How Washington can control the game: The Huskies' pass rush can dictate the tempo. When it comes to sacks, Washington has been ranked in the top three nationally all season. They're loaded with talent that loves to get after the quarterback up front, and this is particularly bad news for Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have given up 37 sacks this season, making them the 112th-ranked team nationally in that category. Needless to say, that's not good, and it represents an opening for big Danny Shelton and Hau'oli Kikaha, the national leader in sacks during the regular season. If Washington can deliver a cohesively aggressive performance up front, it's easy to see them disrupting Oklahoma State freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph, who doesn't have a whole lot of college experience. – Lombardi

How Oklahoma State can pull off the upset: The Cowboys have to keep balance offensively to negate the mismatch up front. Oklahoma State blocked better late in the year, but the Cowboys offensive line doesn't stack up well against a Washington front seven that is among the best in the country. If the Cowboys can get Desmond Roland and the inside running game going, that will prevent Washington from launching an all-out assault on Rudolph. The true freshman has shown plenty of poise in his two starts. But he won't stand much of a chance if Oklahoma State can't keep the Washington defense off-balance. – Trotter

Washington's X-factor: The offense. The Huskies struggled offensively at the start of the season, but quarterback Cyler Miles has supplied them with a notably steady presence as of late. Much credit can probably be given to the stabilization of Washington's running back position -- Dwayne Washington has rushed for at least 100 yards and seven yards per carry in each of the Huskies' past three games -- but Miles certainly deserves credit for overseeing a unit that has demonstrated increasing cohesiveness as this season has gone along. The sophomore has thrown only three interceptions this season, and if he holds onto the football against Oklahoma State, Washington should have the offensive talent necessary to support their explosive defense. – Lombardi

Oklahoma State's X-factor: The Cowboys suffered a massive blow after the win over Oklahoma when All-Big 12 all-purpose back Tyreek Hill was dismissed from the team. Hill was Oklahoma State's best player all year, and his absence from the offense and return teams leaves a huge void. Who could help fill it? Slot extraordinaire David Glidden is one possibility. Glidden has been Oklahoma State's most consistent pass-catcher this season; he's also expected to replace Hill on punt returns. Glidden doesn't possess Hill's speed or explosiveness. But with a reception of at least 17 yards in all but two games this season, Glidden has the knack for producing big plays. Without Hill, the Cowboys could really use a few from him against the Huskies. – Trotter

What a win would mean for the Huskies: A Washington win would mean positivity and stability coming out of Chris Petersen's first season at the helm of the program. Many were uneasy about this Huskies' team early in the year, when both sides of the football suffered from decidedly lackluster performances. Washington seemed to lack the necessary punch to make a true statement in the Pac-12, but they clearly improved over the course of 2014 as Petersen settled in and the team's personnel fell into the appropriate positions. The Huskies obviously still have plenty of work to do -- they'll be graduating a bevy of excellent talent -- but a victory here would wrap up a nine-win season, something that would ultimately carry necessary positive vibes into a critical offseason. – Lombardi

What a win would mean for the Cowboys: While fielding the youngest squad of any Power 5 conference program, the Cowboys suffered through arguably the worst stretch of the Mike Gundy era, losing five in a row, all by at least three touchdowns. But after pulling Rudolph out of redshirt, light appeared from the end of the tunnel, as Oklahoma State toppled the Sooners on the road in the regular-season finale. With Texas and Oklahoma getting destroyed in their bowl games, the budding Cowboys have a golden chance to emerge as the third team alongside TCU and Baylor in the Big 12 next year. A win over Washington would infuse Rudolph and the Pokes with plenty of optimism about the possibilities for 2015 headed into the offseason. – Trotter