NCAA Football News

2015 TicketCity Cactus Bowl: Game Grades, Analysis for Huskies, Cowboys

In a game which had the looks of a blowout early, the Oklahoma State Cowboys were able to hang on and defeat the Washington Huskies by a score of 30-22 in the 2015 Cactus Bowl. 

Freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph went 17-of-26 for 299 yards and two touchdowns. The signal-caller in particular got into a nice rhythm early. He had full command of the offense and looked decisive throwing the ball down the field. 

Washington must've forgot about the game time, because the Huskies didn't come to play until the second half. It was a very disappointing effort across the board, and one which I'm sure will stick in the craw of head coach Chris Petersen for the duration of the offseason. 

This piece will take a look at game grades for both teams throughout the contest. It will also address game analysis for the position units. 

A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. 

Washington Huskies Game Analysis

 

Passing Offense

The passing game was nonexistent in the first half. Cyler Miles looked like he had trouble gripping the football at times, because his throws had very little velocity on them. On the day, Miles went 25-of-38 for 268 yards. 

Fortunately for Washington, both Jaydon Mickens and Kasen Williams stepped up and made big plays. Mickens was easily the most dynamic option for the Huskies, and should be going forward into next year. His quickness and agility on the perimeter posed problems for OSU. Mickens led the team with seven receptions for 82 yards. 

Williams also flashed in his final game as a collegiate player. He was able to break tackles and accrue solid yards after the catch.

With that said, Miles generally did have problems throwing the football. It will be something to look at heading into the offseason, especially with Jake Browning heading to Seattle. With the complement of receivers on the roster, the passing game should be far more explosive than it is.

 

Pass Defense

It was actually a pretty decent showing by the extremely young secondary. At times, Washington had three true freshmen manning the back end of the defense. 

Early on, OSU had no trouble throwing the football. This was, in large part, down to the lack of pressure being brought by the front seven. The defensive backs were left out on an island, and as a result, were tasked with defending in one-on-one situations. 

Outside of the long 47-yard touchdown to Brandon Sheperd and the 48-yard rumble by James Castleman, it was a solid showing. Sidney Jones IV in particular was very competitive, and has the look of a good Pac-12 corner down the line. 

Budda Baker's one-handed interception was also extremely impressive. 

 

Rushing Offense

The offensive line never was able to get much of a push. Credit to OSU for plugging the lanes between the tackles with both stunts and blitzes. While Washington didn't run up the middle very well, it did run somewhat well on the edge. 

Dwayne Washington led the team with 42 yards on 13 carries, and the Huskies as a whole got 101 yards on 25 carries. With Miles struggling to throw the football, it would've made sense to try and establish the ground game more. 

Featuring Miles and his legs (which could be his best attribute) also would've made sense. The longest run came via Mickens, who scampered for a 31-yard touchdown on a reverse. 

 

Run Defense

The actual rushing numbers for OSU aren't overly eye-popping. The front seven held the Cowboys to a 3.1 yards per rush average. However, the tackling was not very good. Especially in the first half, Cowboys receivers and rushers were breaking tackles with regularity. 

Additionally, the team got next to no pressure on Rudolph. There was more of an emphasis in the second half in getting after the quarterback and making him uncomfortable, but this facet of the game simply was lacking early on. 

One positive did come early in the first half, when the duo of Cory Littleton and Danny Shelton forced a fumble. 

 

Special Teams

It was a mixed bag for the Huskies tonight. Had it not been for the 95-yard kickoff return for touchdown by Ross, the grade would've been substantially lower. 

Ross' touchdown was able to ignite the rally and give Washington some tangible momentum heading into the final quarter. Yet again, the display of brilliance shows why Ross needs to be utilized in some form or fashion on offense. 

The usually reliable kicker Cameron Van Winkle missed a 43-yard field goal, and a botched handling of a punt return led to a fumble recovery by the Pokes. OSU was then able to cash in the turnover for a field goal. 

 

Coaching

Why wasn't Washington ready to play? Forget the schematic parts of the game momentarily. With more than a month to prepare for the game, it was perplexing as to why the Huskies played with no emotion or energy for the first half. That falls directly upon the coaching staff's shoulders. 

From a game perspective, the offense had no rhythm or tempo in the first half. The plays were inspiring and certainly did not play to the strengths of the personnel. 

Defensively, conventional wisdom suggests getting after a freshman quarterback with pressure. Instead, UW opted to rely upon its front four without wanting to blitz. As a result, Rudolph sat in the pocket comfortably and threw the ball all over the field.

The adjustment of bringing pressure wasn't made until the second half. At that point, it was too little, too late. 

Oklahoma State Cowboys Game Analysis

 

Passing Offense

As previously mentioned, Rudolph had a nice command of the offense. He was decisive with his throws and rarely looked rattled. The Rock Hill, South Carolina native finished 17-of-26 for 299 yards and two touchdowns. Rudolph was accurate on throws to all parts of the field and spread the ball out well amongst his receivers. 

The passing attack for next year looks incredibly bright. In addition to Rudolph, receivers Brandon Sheperd and James Washington were both dynamic. Sheperd led the Pokes with five grabs for 98 yards and a touchdown. Washington's one-handed 28-yard touchdown displayed why he's the future at the position for OSU. 

Oh, and James Castleman's 48-yard rumble was a thing of beauty. Just to let you all know, he's OSU's 6'2", 300-pound starting defensive tackle.

 

Pass Defense

The secondary did a nice job of jockeying with UW receivers early in the contest. Perhaps most impressively, the secondary (and entire defense as a whole) tackled extremely well. Most of Washington's quick-throw offense is predicated upon making the first man miss in space. OSU simply didn't allow this to happen. 

In the second half, Washington's tempo did give the secondary some issues. Mickens in particular was able to make some plays down the field. However, it was a strong showing by the unit across the board. The longest pass play for Washington only went for 23 yards. 

Corner Kevin Peterson iced the game away with an interception in the final moments of the contest. 

 

Rushing Offense

Desmond Roland was the unsung hero Friday night for the Pokes.

He was the workhorse for the offense, getting the tough yards and proving stability in backfield. Roland finished with 123 yards on 32 carries. His ability to carry the ball effectively was key in taking pressure off of his freshman signal-caller. 

An added wrinkle featured Castleman as a runner. Positioning himself as the wildcat quarterback, the starting defensive tackle was able to punch it in from a yard out to give OSU its first touchdown of the contest. 

 

Run Defense

OSU did a fantastic job of plugging the holes up front. Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer called timely blitzes and stunts, which forced UW to try and bounce most of its runs to the perimeter. 

Linebacker Seth Jacobs was also a stud on Friday night. He was everywhere on the field, flying around making tackle after tackle. Jacobs has the looks of a future All-Big 12 performer before his career is over. The unit was solid, allowing only 101 yards rushing on 25 carries. 

 

Special Teams

Much like Washington, it was not the greatest effort by the special teams unit. 

The good: Kicker Ben Grogan converted on three field-goal attempts. Punter Kip Smith was excellent in switching field position and pinning Washington within its 10-yard line on multiple occasions. The coverage unit also was able to pick up a fumble on a muffed punt attempt by Washington. 

The bad: The coverage unit also allowed a 96-yard touchdown on a kickoff. Grogan also missed a 27-yard field goal, which would've put the Pokes up 11 with under a minute to play. Instead, it offered Washington a chance to tie the game. 

 

Coaching

Unlike Chris Petersen, credit to Mike Gundy for having his team prepared to play. There was no question OSU was the most energetic, physical football team for the first half. The underdog mentality suited the Cowboys just fine in this contest. 

Also credit Gundy and his staff for devising a complete game plan on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the Cowboys completely shut down Washington in the first half. The Huskies looked like a high school team in comparison. 

Offensively, Gundy did the smart thing by relying upon the run game early. This opened up things in the passing game for his freshman quarterback, and the offense as a whole functioned quite well. 

 

 

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Washington vs. Oklahoma State: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2015 Cactus Bowl

Washington mounted a ferocious second-half comeback, but it was too little, too late for the Huskies. They fell, 30-22, to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl Friday night at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.

Washington quarterback Cyler Miles finished 25-of-38 for 268 yards, one touchdown and an interception. That turnover proved extremely costly, coming on the Huskies' final drive of the game as they attempted to tie it in the final seconds.

Miles' opposite number, Mason Rudolph, picked up his second career victory, throwing for 299 yards, two TDs and an interception on 17-of-26 passing. Desmond Roland provided the freshman with plenty of help, rushing for 123 yards on 32 carries.

Kyle Fredrickson of The Oklahoman singled out the Oklahoma State offensive line for opening up holes for Roland against a tough Washington front seven:

This is the ninth year in a row that Oklahoma State qualified for a bowl game. The Cowboys needed a victory over rival Oklahoma in their final game to get here, but they made it nonetheless.

It's an unparalleled streak of success for the school, and one that head coach Mike Gundy knows not only helps on the recruiting trail but also allows more inexperienced players to gain invaluable time on the practice field, per The Seattle Times' Adam Jude:

But the streak is important for us to have those practices, which we did over the last three weeks. Those 12 practices are very important for us to develop the younger players, the guys that we've talked about and you've talked about in the press, that are first year players. They were told two weeks ago that they’re now essentially second year players because they've got a season under their belt. But those practices are really important. I think it’s vital for us to continue to develop our program and work to get better.

Plenty of teams before have used victories in lesser bowls as a jumping-off point in the pursuit of greener pastures, Oklahoma State included. Just look at how the Cowboys parlayed their Alamo Bowl success in 2010 to a Fiesta Bowl victory the following year.

The school looks to have a bright future ahead. ESPN.com's Jake Trotter thinks the rest of the Big 12 is on notice:

On Friday, the Cowboys helped carry the conference flag in a way that few Big 12 schools have so far. Entering the game, the Pac-12 and Big 12 conferences had differing fortunes throughout this year's bowl season, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Although Oklahoma State almost certainly didn't care about preserving the image of the Big 12, the Cowboys helped the conference regain some prestige.

Of course, some will likely wish that they finished the game with the same ferocity with which they started it. OSU dropped 24 points on Washington in the first half, dominating the Huskies on both sides of the ball.

Oklahoma State defensive tackle James Castleman picked up the seldom-seen fat-guy touchdown to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter. Castleman took the snap out of the Wildcat and ran it in from a yard out:

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer joked that between that TD and Bryce Petty's 18-yard touchdown pass to 390-pound offensive guard LaQuan McGowan in the Cotton Bowl Classic, the Big 12 was establishing itself as the pre-eminent home of the fat-guy touchdown:

Wideout James Washington hauled in a 28-yard touchdown pass with one hand to double the Cowboys' lead, 14-0, with 16 seconds left in the first quarter.

Three of the Huskies' first four drives ended in three-and-outs. The other resulted in a Cameron Van Winkle missed field goal after Washington started with the ball on the OSU 28-yard line. They mustered no offense to speak of for almost the entirety of the first half.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys padded their lead with a 40-yard field goal from Ben Grogan to start the scoring in the second quarter. Then, 48 seconds from halftime, wide receiver Brandon Sheperd added another touchdown, putting on the brakes as Washington defensive back Kevin King blew by in pursuit, as illustrated by ESPN College Football:

Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman thought the junior might have taken pointers from Tom Cruise before the game:

Oklahoma State couldn't have asked for a better start. The Cowboys outgained Washington 293-113 heading into halftime and prevented the Huskies from converting on a single one of their six third downs.

Rudolph was a bit hit-or-miss. He threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the first half but had a fumble and an interception on consecutive drives. OSU was a bit lucky Washington didn't turn either of those turnovers into points.

In order to have any chance at a comeback, the Huskies needed to do something special on their opening drive of the second half. They did exactly that, with wideout Jaydon Mickens taking a reverse 31 yards to the house and trimming the deficit to 17 points, 24-7, with 11:48 left in the third quarter:

Grogan hit another field goal to give Oklahoma State a 27-7 lead, but the Huskies weren't done. On the ensuing kickoff, return man John Ross made a couple of moves and then turned on the afterburners to smoke OSU's coverage team for a 96-yard return touchdown.

Pac-12 Networks attempted to encapsulate Ross' emotions as he headed for paydirt:

That quick TD helped Washington regain some momentum, but the team couldn't break through.

Head coach Chris Petersen gambled on a 4th-and-6 on Oklahoma State's 37-yard line with roughly nine-and-a-half minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys stopped Miles two yards short of the first down.

On the next drive, Grogan split the uprights with his third field goal of the game with a little under six minutes left, putting a major dent in Washington's comeback hopes. Mickens got his second touchdown of the game, this time coming on a 16-yard pass from Miles, but the Huskies still needed another TD and a two-point conversion to tie the game.

Following a missed field goal from Grogan, Washington got the ball on its own 20-yard line with 43 seconds remaining. The odds were against the Huskies from the start of the drive, and Miles' interception resigned them to defeat.

This is Washington's third bowl loss in four seasons. Petersen's obviously a talented coach, though, working wonders with Boise State in the past. The infrastructure is there for the Huskies to climb up the Pac-12 totem pole. It's only a matter of time before they put it all together.

Trotter, meanwhile, penciled in Oklahoma State as a contender to rival Baylor and TCU atop the Big 12 next year:

The 2014 season was always viewed as a bit of a rebuilding year for the team given how many players the Cowboys lost from last season. Making and winning a postseason bowl is a nice accomplishment for this team and a great way to start 2015.

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