Baylor football is heading to the Russell Athletic Bowl. Not the Sugar Bowl as many had already penciled in prior to playing Texas on Saturday. The football gods had a different story in mind, with the Longhorns winning 23-17. Despite the loss, Baylor fans have something to console themselves with.
Last week against TCU it was the torrential rain affecting the outcome. This week, it was playing without a quarterback on the roster aside from walk-on freshman Zack Bennema.
Third-string quarterback Chris Johnson went down with a head injury early in the game, leaving the game completely to Art Briles’ resolve. Briles used a Wildcat/Single Wing attack, echoing a high school football game to make up for the injury.
It was déja vu all over again for the Big 12 which saw Kansas State run into a similar problem against Oklahoma State in October. Johnson was asked to jump into the starting role as the last man in line just like Joe Hubener had for K-State. Both left their respective games injured, leaving the coaching staff little choice but to put an athletic receiver behind center.
For the Wildcats, that meant using Kody Cook as a run-first quarterback. Baylor tried just that in the first half with receiver/returner Lynx Hawthorne who last took snaps as a junior in high school per FOX Sports. The rust was clearly there as his two passes downfield were intercepted. The Bears’ signature ability to march down the field with deep threat receivers had been taken away. In lieu, the Bears went into the half with a 20-point deficit. Baylor had advanced past Texas’ 40-yard line one time, missing a field goal.
Running onto the field for the latter half, the Bears were a revived team with a newly devised system. Hawthorne was no longer the quarterback substitute, but one of a few, including running backs Terence Williams and Johnny Jefferson.
The opening drive, Baylor marched 69 yards to the end zone by subbing Jefferson and Williams at quarterback, rifling direct snaps. There was not a third down attempt on that possession.
A pattern quickly emerged. When a running back lined up behind center, it was a draw play — similar to Pop Warner’s “winged T” formation. Hawthorne in the backfield was a pass, for the majority of attempts.
Yet, even with this predictability, Baylor was much more proficient than it was trying to make a wide receiver a full-time quarterback. Squares don’t fit into circles, we learned that in preschool.
Baylor had to abandon the quick scores that it has become accustomed to — in part to sheer inability — but found a way to score on three straight possessions. More impressive, those three drives chewed an entire quarter off the clock. If not for a fumble during a fourth down conversion from Jefferson, the tale could have ended much different.
A third loss in four weeks is a sting to the program, for sure. But to come from 20 points behind and emerge with a new offense in the second half is nothing short of miraculous.