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December 26, 2014 at 11:10 AM

Cactus Bowl: Looking back at the brief history between UW and Oklahoma State

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 9.26.47 AMOne week from today the Huskies will play Oklahoma State in the TicketyCity Cactus Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. (7:15 p.m. PT, ESPN). The history between UW and OSU is brief but notable (or maybe just interesting) for at least a couple reasons:

In their last meeting three decades ago, Oklahoma State had a sophomore running back by the name of Thurman Thomas. All Thomas did in the 1985 opener at Husky Stadium was rush for 237 yards on 40 carries in one of the best performances by a running back ever against UW. Oh, and Thomas threw a 6-yard TD pass to give the 16th-ranked Cowboys a 24-17 lead in their eventual 31-17 comeback victory over No. 12 UW.

“Let me tell you right now, gentlemen,” OSU coach Pat Jones said afterward. “If you haven’t put Thurman Thomas on your list of Heisman candidates, you are missing a bet. To play this level of competition and play this well, he has to be on your Heisman Trophy list. … If he stays healthy, he’ll do this every week.”

(Bo Jackson would go on to win the 1985 Heisman, with Thomas finishing 10th in the voting.)

Five years earlier, the Huskies had cleared an important hurdle by going to Stillwater and beating the Cowboys, 24-18. (See banner headline above.) Chuck Nelson kicked three field goals that day and UW linebacker Jerry McLain recovered a fumble in the final two minutes to seal the win. It was the first nonconference road win in the regular season of Don James‘ UW tenure and the Huskies’ first since 1972 at Purdue. The win helped build momentum for UW’s Pac-10 champion and Rose Bowl berth against Michigan after the 1980 season.

“There was so much back-and-forth … so many penalties and turnovers. Just a lot of errors,” James said after the game. “But I think it’s a great win on the road. Those are hard to get.”

Here’s a column from Blaine Newnham after the 1985 game.

Headline: UW loss reflects no more than quality of foe

What a night. Foam fingers flashing in a setting sun, water skiers cutting corners on Lake Washington, and two nationally ranked football teams playing some nationally ranked football.

This, friends, is the flip side of the coin. This was not the Huskies mothballing Texas-El Paso, or hacking up Northwestern last night. This was the real thing.

Don James knew better. Last week, he said he’d rather open with somebody else, a team Washington might stumble and fumble with and still beat. This one was played for the spectators and the television viewers, and we thank you.

Forget 11-1, forget being ranked No. 1, forget the nation looking on with great anticipation of next Saturday’s replay of the 1984 national championship game in Provo against BYU.

By the second week of the college football season both BYU and Washington have a loss.

This will be a very different season from last year. Although it might not end up in the Orange Bowl with a national championship game, it might, in total, be far more interesting.

Last year, the Huskies played to keep from losing, and in all but one game accomplished it.

The schedule was so easy and the defense so good James just tried to keep his Huskies from beating themselves.

Well, last night, they beat themselves. But it was fun watching them do it.

By most polls, Oklahoma State and Washington were ranked high in the second 10. Both were picked to finish second in their conferences, both were coming off bowl victories last year, and both had some key new folks in the lineup.

This game was going to be won by the team making the fewest mistakes and displaying the greatest grit. Give it to Oklahoma State, 31-17.

A year ago, the Huskies never would have given two touchdowns _ as in handing it over to them _ to anybody. But this is a different Washington team. This one goes for it.

David Toy, making his first big-league start, fumbled near the end zone, giving the Cowboys one touchdown, and Hugh Millen had a nice throw picked off and returned for another touchdown.

Perhaps that play, Millen’s fourth-quarter pass intended for tight end Rod Jones with the Huskies trailing 24-17, best typified this game and its outcome.

Millen rolled left, made a good throw, Jones was ready, but Mark Moore, an all-Big Eight safety, knifed in front of Jones, intercepted the pass, and ran 49 yards to score, hurdling over the prostrate Millen at the 5.

A safety from Northwestern or Miami of Ohio doesn’t make that play.

The Huskies also might go the rest of the season without seeing a better tailback than OSU sophomore Thurman Thomas, who rushed for 237 yards in 40 carries and also, on just a marvelous play, rolled out, was almost tackled and then stood up to throw a 6-yard touchdown pass for what proved to be the winning points.

Only one back, Heisman Trophy winner Charles White of USC (243 yards in 1979), has ever gained more against the Huskies.

Who is Thurman Thomas? He was the MVP in the Cowboys’ win last year in the Gator Bowl, where he also threw a touchdown pass and gained 153 yards rushing.

This was Big Eight football. The Cowboys have a strong offensive line and a defense that last year only once allowed more than 17 points.

The Cowboys rushed for 274 yards and gained 349 all told against Washington. Astounding figures for a Washington defense that last year allowed an average of 126 yards rushing and 11.6 points a game.

There were all kinds of alarming stats. The 31 points given Oklahoma Staterepresented the most given up by a Washington team since the 40 scored by Louisiana State early in the 1983 season.

Moreover, the loss was only the second by Washington in the past 26 games at Husky Stadium. It was Washington’s first loss of a season opener since the 10-7 defeat at the hands of UCLA in 1978.

But, then, who have the Huskies played? Since UCLA, the season-opening foes have been Wyoming, Air Force, Pacific, UTEP and Northwestern twice.

“We’ve got the kind of schedule where we could go 0-11 with the mistakes we made,” said James, who pointed the finger not at the defense, but at the offense which gave up the two touchdowns.

OK. But last year the Huskies couldn’t score in 44 seconds as they did in the first quarter or in 46 seconds as they did in the second quarter.

Millen threw the ball very well. Two of his three interceptions were tipped and the third came on the great play by Moore.

In all, Millen completed 21 of 38 for 232 yards. Mo Hill, David Trimble and Darryl Franklin made you forget for the moment about Danny Greene and Mark Pattison.

Let it not be forgotten that the Huskies made more first downs than Oklahoma State (21 to 15) and ran more offensive plays (75 to 70).

It didn’t help, of course, that fullback Rick Fenney was lost in the first quarter to an ankle injury and that veteran tackle Dennis Soldat, who had pretty much occupied OSU All-America Leslie O’Neal much of the night, went out early in the fourth quarter with a bruised knee.

“If there is anything good about the loss it is that it was to a very good team,” said James. “If their quarterback (Ronnie Williams, who broke his jaw in the third quarter) comes along, they will be very good.”

I would wonder, however, if Washington doesn’t have a better future than does Oklahoma State.

The Huskies have more weapons, more versatility. In contrast with last year, Rod Jones is a better looking tight end, Toy had his moments at tailback, the offensive line blocked a good Oklahoma State defensive line better than last year’s line would have, and the passing game is obviously better.

The defense? Well, Steve Alvord and Reggie Rogers looked solid, sometimes spectacular. The linebackers were inconsistent and allowed Thomas too many extra yards. But at times, youngsters David Rill, Tony Dominque and Bo Yates were outstanding.

The Huskies lost simply because they were confused in lining up on Thomas’ first touchdown run _ a 35-yarder _ because of Jeff Jaeger‘s inability to kick a couple of second-half field goals, and because Toy fumbled and Millen threw an interception.

Not to mention the quality of Oklahoma State. James might dread this schedule, but the fan can only love it. Bring on BYU, Houston and UCLA.



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