Despite having a bevy of talent, including two starting quarterbacks, a Biletnikoff winner, and a thousand yard rusher missing, No. 17 Baylor found a way to reinvigorate its offense to beat No. 10 North Carolina to win the Russell Athletics Bowl, 49-38.
Heading into the game, Baylor was expected to struggle to catch much footing against a team that was just a few plays away from a spot in the College Football Playoff. But heading out of the contest, the Bears looked just as effective as when Seth Russell was leading this once healthy offense to over 60 points per game.
What’s more — though hindsight is 20/20 — the injuries that caused doubts even among the Baylor faithful caused head coach Art Briles and co-offensive coordinator Kendal Briles to reinvent their already innovative offense to show audiences a new side to this potent offense. We already knew this team could run, rushing for over 300 yards per game. But Tuesday night, a new brand of potency emerged as the Bears set a new FBS bowl game record with 645 yards rushing, averaging 7.7 yards per carry led by sophomore Johnny Jefferson’s 299 yards and three touchdowns.
Baylor has long been considered an Air Raid team, and it’s difficult to argue with that sentiment. But to see this team run 84 times and fall behind the line of scrimmage just two times is a testament to a new-found versatility for America’s fastest offense.
With only one listed quarterback on the roster in Chris Johnson, Baylor resorted to running a majority of plays out of a Wildcat/Single Wing formation that is now being coined the “Wild Bear” by the Twittersphere.
In the Wild Bear, five different players, including Jefferson, Johnson, and wide receiver Lynx Hawthorne, caused confusion for a Tar Heels defense that only had one half of game tape to study. The Bears ran similar formations in its 17-point half against Texas in the season finale.
With five different players taking the direct snap, Baylor was able to run its signature up-tempo offense that usually relies on a single operator like Russell to keep advancing the offense with long passes.
Now Baylor has shown the world — for better or worse – – that it can operate in nearly any circumstance.
Granted, North Carolina was giving up over 200 yards on the ground per game, ranking in the Bottom 25 in the nation. But to see Baylor post three players over 90 yards on the ground— Jefferson (299), Devin Chafin (156), and Terence Williams (97),—to shatter the previous bowl game record of 524 yards set by Nebraska in 1996 is astounding.
Remember, this was accomplished without Linwood in the backfield.
All of the running backs are returning next season.
Jefferson brings unmatched expansiveness while the freshman, Williams, is the big back with excellent reach. Chafin is the hammer who has been punching nails in defenses’ coffins at the goal line all season.
Even four of five offensive linemen graduating this year does not seem as it will take away any of this committee’s potency, as most of the team rushing yards came after breaking through the line thanks to intuitive play-calling to counteract the Tar Heels’ crashing defense in an attempt to slow the freight train.
While Baylor won’t be running at this pace next season, it is beneficial that it came across this game plan out of necessity. Now it’s part of the Bears’ repertoire.
Th Bears were already difficult to pin down with an A-class passing game and a power run game.
Now that Briles has devised this system and ran it with great success both games it was utilized, though, opposing defenses will have more homework to prep for Baylor — not just the play calls, but looking at five or more players who can run the ball effectively.