Mike Gundy’s selfies, Chris Petersen’s tricks on display at the Cactus Bowl

Oklahoma State Cowboys coach Mike Gundy went from being short with the media to taking selfies heading into the 2014 Cactus Bowl matchup against a coach he admires, Washington's Chris Petersen.

Tim Heitman/Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Early in December, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy put the media on a freeze. He’d been terse, refusing to answer questions about injuries and personnel decisions as his Cowboys found themselves 5-6 heading into a rivalry game against Oklahoma.

Wanting to make amends Wednesday as the Cowboys prepared to face the Washington Huskies in the Cactus Bowl on Friday, Gundy took selfies with media members in the ballroom of a Scottsdale resort.

The change in tone was far from what Washington’s Chris Petersen has become to be known as: A man Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson best described as "consistent," even though knowing what to expect from Petersen’s playbook is far from predictale.

Yet, as the Cowboys prepare to face the Huskies, Gundy can’t help but consider how similar he and his team are to Petersen and his. Each team believes 2014 was a transition to better days ahead.

"I don’t want to put myself in a category with certain coaches," Gundy said, "but there’s a number of similarities between Coach (Petersen), myself, his staff, our staff, and kind of the way we’ve progressed through this year and really over his last five or six years of his career and my career."

Both Petersen and Gundy are 5-3 in bowl games. Each has won a Fiesta Bowl. This year, they’ve fought uphill battles.

Both coaches received a boost in fame in 2007.

Petersen’s Statue of Liberty play on Jan. 1 of that year gave Boise State a Fiesta Bowl win over favored Oklahoma. That the Broncos ran the exact play in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, two days before the Cactus Bowl, in its first year without Petersen is a testament to his legacy.

Gundy, meanwhile, is still tied to his 2007 rant against the media where he famously exclaimed, "Come after me. I’m a man. I’m 40!" in response the criticism of one of his players.

This year, Washington went 8-5 in Petersen’s first year at the helm, and that might have been overachieving. Much of a transition year was thanks to a freakishly productive defensive front seven assembled by former coach Steve Sarkisian that includes two of the best players at their respective positions, Thompson and nose tackle Danny Shelton.

CACTUS BOWL

WASHINGTON VS. OKLAHOMA STATE

 

When: Friday, 8:15 p.m. MST

Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

TV: ESPN (Dave Flemming, Danny Kanell)

KEY PLAYERS

Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington: The junior will be facing a decision about his NFL future after this game after returning four recovered fumbles for 184 yards this season. He scored four defensive touchdowns this year.

Hau’oli Kikaha, LB, Washington: While Thompson and nose tackle Danny Shelton get all the publicity, Kikaha leads the team with 24 tackles for loss and 18 sacks. His production will be key if Washington wants to get pressure on Oklahoma State’s freshman quarterback.

Desmond Roland, RB, Oklahoma State: Roland and the offensive line got a little traction heading into the bowl season, Gundy said. The Cowboys will be relying on the run game to take pressure off Rudolph, and the 6-2, 210-pound senior will have to keep the sticks moving.

Ryan Simmons, LB, Oklahoma State: The second-leading tackler for the Cowboys will have his hands full reading plays and being vocal in helping his teammates diagnose Washington’s complex offense.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Oklahoma State fans probably won’t be happy about the 2014 season in any case, but a win will certainly allude to being out of the doldrums from the regular season. Washington  appeared to be a work in progress all season long under their first-yer coach, but a nine-win campaign would be a positive, especially in the deep Pac-12.

PREDICTION

Washington 24, Oklahoma State 21

Oklahoma State battled through a five-game losing streak toward the end of the year that led to Gundy being short with the media. A midseason quarterback change to freshman Mason Rudolph and a thrilling win over rival Oklahoma to end the season — and the bowl eligibility that came with the 6-6 record — has Gundy smiling heading into the Cactus Bowl.

"I went through two weeks with the Oklahoma media, they were all mad at me," he said. "It wasn’t really my fault and wasn’t really their fault. I need to come up with something to make everyone happy."

Thus, the selfies.

An hour earlier, Petersen stoically discussed his DNA as a master of trickery.

"The one thing I’m not afraid to do is call plays that other people look at and say, ‘Well that’s not good.’ Well, they’re not good if they don’t work," Petersen said.

On the field at the Cactus Bowl, the Huskies might take a few risks in the playcalling to finish off the first year under Petersen with a bang.

The Cowboys will target a winning record — and to keep Gundy happily taking selfies into the New Year.

Washington’s trick plays: Oklahoma State linebacker Ryan Simmons promised that he and his defense would see a trick play from Washington on Friday. More than that, the complexities in the Huskies’ offense will be the No. 1 challenge for the Cowboys’ defense to overcome.

"That’s probably the most diverse offense I’ve seen since I’ve been here," Simmons said. "They’re very balanced. It’s very confusing in a way."

Can Rudolph stay calm?: It’s the Washington defense that will be the Cowboys’ biggest issue. A midseason quarterback swap sparked Oklahoma State, but a young offensive line will need to protect freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph, who in two starts went 32 for 60 for four touchdowns and three interceptions.

"There are some good guys in the Big 12," said Cowboys fullback Jeremy Seaton, who will be tasked with blocking the Huskies’ aggressive defensive players. "I mean, we’ve definitely played some guys that can play. With this skill set that these guys bring, I honestly think I haven’t played anybody like them."

Seizing the opportunity: A young offense for Oklahoma State will have to take advantage of any turnovers forced by the defense. The Huskies and quarterback Cyler Miles have been very careful with the ball this year. Miles had just three interceptions this season.

"At certain times we’re like ‘Throw it,’ and he’d tuck it down and run it," Petersen said. "But I think at the end of the day, the end result was there wasn’t a lot of throwing to the wrong guys."

–Washington linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha admitted he hadn’t seen the viral video of Gundy’s 2007 rant until a few days ago.

–Petersen said he doesn’t know which position best suits Shaq Thompson, who has played linebacker but because of injuries also saw time at running back this year. The Washington coach said Thompson could even play safety if he was asked.

–More Gundy on selfies: "That’s what kids do nowadays. They don’t care about autographs and all that. They just like to take pictures and they post it on whatever they post."

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