Their preparation, Chris Petersen thought, was fine. He said so in the week preceding the game.
But it was apparent soon after the kickoff of last season’s Cactus Bowl that the Washington Huskies weren’t ready to play.
They fell behind 24-0 at halftime against an Oklahoma State Cowboys team that finished the regular season with a 6-6 record. The Huskies’ offense sputtered. Their defense lacked punch. And a second-half comeback attempt fell short, UW’s season ending with a 30-22 defeat.
So as the Huskies ready for this season’s bowl game — a Saturday matchup against Southern Mississippi in the Heart of Dallas Bowl — they do so vowing to play with more “edge.”
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“I think you can work hard and still go out and get hit right in the mouth if you don’t show up to play your best football of the year,” Petersen said, recounting lessons learned from the Cactus Bowl loss.
“Last year, Oklahoma State had more of an edge, played harder and it showed up on the field.”
It probably helps that Washington is playing its bowl game a week earlier than it did last season. A truncated practice schedule makes it easier for Petersen to emphasize energy and competition — after Sunday’s session, he said “practices have been a little bit different, just trying to get really good work and not just go through the motions.”
The Huskies also didn’t take a break for the holidays, as they did last season, when players were given several days off before reconvening in Tempe, Arizona.
This year, players were given time off to study for final exams, but the team stayed in Seattle until its Monday departure for the bowl game. They practiced Dec. 12-13, practiced again Dec. 18-20, and will practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Dallas before the game.
Petersen said earlier this month that “schedule-wise, it probably does flow a little better,” but if it were up to him, he would have preferred to just go ahead and play the week after UW’s 45-10 victory over Washington State in the Apple Cup.
“I think we were playing our best ball as the season ended,” Petersen said. “It’s hard to jump right back into where you left off, but we need to do that to have a chance against these guys.”
And to forget about the way last season ended.
“I think it’s definitely a thought in everybody’s head, (that) we’re changing that,” senior linebacker Travis Feeney said. “We’ve got to come into this game as if it’s Wazzu, as if this is a game, basically, to make it to a bowl game. That’s how I’m trying to look at it. I’m looking at it like we’re 5-6, and we’ve got to win this game, and that’s how we’ve got to play.”
In the days preceding the game, both UW and Southern Miss will participate in a few activities arranged by the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The Huskies and Golden Eagles will each visit a local hospital, partake in a charity event, see a movie and visit with a caricature artist.
Petersen said the Huskies will see the new Star Wars movie, in addition to “a little golf, (and) a little JFK.”
Each team will also participate in a gift suite.
“The one thing we’ve kind of learned through the years is, if you have a bunch of things, it’s distracting,” Petersen said. “It wears the guys out. So you pick and choose your spots, and when I look at the schedule, it looks just about right. They’ll have some fun, but we’re going down there to play a game and try and play our best.”