By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
ORLANDO, Fla. - Going into Tuesday's Russell Athletic Bowl without its top two quarterbacks, leading rusher, an All-American receiver and one of its starting offensive linemen, 17th-ranked Baylor seemed to be working with the short end of the stick.
But as it turned out, the Bears had more than enough stick.
Game MVP Johnny Jefferson rushed for a school-record 299 yards - a lot of that coming from the wildcat quarterback position - and the Bears piled up an FBS bowl-record 645 yards rushing to stun the 10th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels, 49-38, at Citrus Bowl Stadium.
"The big thing for me was the last game we played, I had a bad mistake," said Jefferson, who had a fourth quarter fumble in a 23-17 loss to Texas in the regular-season finale. "And I promised the guys that I was going to come out and give it my all. And today, God blessed me, and those big guys up front blocked amazingly."
Baylor's nation-leading offense typically balances the run and pass, coming in averaging better than 300 yards in both. But with third-string quarterback Chris Johnson making just his third career start, offensive coordinator Kendal Briles leaned on the wildcat formation that worked in the second half against Texas and produced record numbers on the ground.
"We wanted to do both," Kendal said. "We felt very confident in Chris and his abilities to throw the football, and we did take some shots early that we didn't connect on. . . . As we got into the game and we were moving them up front and our guys were creating a lot of space in the run game and we were taking advantage of it, we just felt like if things weren't broke why fix it."
North Carolina's defense just never came up with an answer for Baylor's running attack. With five different players taking snaps from center and the Bears rotating Jefferson, Devin Chafin (27-161-1 TD) and Terence Williams (18-97-2) in the backfield, they averaged a whopping 7.7 yards per carry and finished with 756 yards total offense.
"We thought they would do basically what they had been doing," said UNC head coach Larry Fedora, whose team fell to 11-3. "We thought they would thorw it around a little bit more. We knew that (Johnson) would run it a little bit more. That's what we were expecting. All they did was come out and just run it down our throat."
The Tar Heels did come up with a stop on Baylor's opening drive, stopping Chafin well short on fourth-and-9 from the UNC 34 as the Bears "kind of felt them out a little bit," All-American tackle Spencer Drango said.
But Baylor scored on seven of its next nine series, the only hiccups being a missed 37-yard field goal at the end of the first half and a Johnson interception into the end zone on the opening drive of the third quarter.
"Hat's off to the rest of the offensive line for getting down and getting dirty and doing what needs to be done," Drango said. "We always pride ourselves on being able to run the ball whenever we want to, but getting almost (700 yards) is unbelievable. I'm very proud to be a part of this team right now, it's been unbelievable."
The Tar Heels actually got the scoring started, driving 69 yards on 13 plays and capping it with Marquise William's nine-yard TD strike to a wide-open Brandon Fritts in the back of the end zone.
Going almost exclusively with the wildcat formation, Baylor's answer was a 13-play, 75-yard drive for the tying touchdown. Jefferson had a key fourth-down conversion with a 24-yard pass to Ishmael Zamora, then Lynx Hawthorne got the scoring honors from six yards out.
When the defense came up with a stop, it took the offense just six plays this time to give the Bears the lead for good. Jefferson went 41 yards on the opening play, Hawthorne clicked off a 37-yard run and Chafin finished it off with a two-yard plunge.
"It was a great experience, I loved it," said Chafin, who finished with a career-high 161 yards rushing on a Baylor bowl-record 27 attempts. "That's what you want, especially when you're a running back with a group of great running backs. You just want production, and it doesn't even have to come from you, necessarily. Like Johnny had 299, I'm so proud of him and being MVP."
With a 15-yard penalty tacked on to a 43-yard kickoff return, North Carolina started its next drive camped at the Baylor 41. But the defense held again, with linebacker Aiavion Edwards sacking Williams for a four-yard loss on third down and forcing the Tar Heels to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Nick Weiler.
The Bears extended the lead in the second quarter with Jefferson TD runs of 11 and 27 yards, sandwiched around an Orion Stewart interception. Jefferson's second of a Russell Athletic Bowl-record three rushing touchdowns came on a fourth-and-five play and made it a 28-10 game.
"First off, I just want to thank the coaches for giving me the opportunity to perform today," said Jefferson, who hit the 1,000-yard plateau for the season with his 23rd and final carry of the night. "Second of all, I just want to thank the o-line, because without the o-line I couldn't have done this. And lastly, I want to thank all the seniors for their leadership, because I wouldn't be here without them."
On a strange sequence that included cornerback Ryan Reid getting flagged for targeting, a call that was reversed, North Carolina pulled back within 28-17 on a four-yard run by Williams after back-to-back penalties against the Bears. The first was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on defensive end Shawn Oakman for continuing to play when he lost his helmet, and the second was a five-yard penalty on Baylor's sideline for interference.
The Bears had a chance at the end of the half to put more points on the board, but Chris Callahan was wide left on a 37-yard field goal after a nice 55-yard drive that included a pair of Johnson passes and a 19-yard run by Chafin.
Taking the opening kickoff in the third quarter, North Carolina went 75 yards on nine plays and pulled to within four on another Williams TD run.
Baylor looked like it would answer right back, marching 68 yards on 11 plays. But on first-and-goal from the 8, Johnson's pass to tight end Jordan Feuerbacher was picked off by UNC safety Dominique Green.
After a three-and-out by the Tar Heels, though, Baylor went 61 yards in eight plays and scored on a three-yard run by Terence Williams to push the lead back to 35-24.
In easily the biggest two-play sequence of the game, Edwards forced a fumble by T.J. Logan at the goal line that was recovered by Stewart; and then Jefferson sprinted 80 yards on the very next play to give the Bears a 42-24 lead.
"I went to make the tackle, and I wasn't sure exactly, I thought (Logan) got past me," said Edwards, who finished with a career-high 17 tackles and nine solo stops. "But I felt my shoulder pad kind of jerk a little bit, and I guess it was the ball. I didn't even know. I came up, and I saw guys jumping on the ball. It was just exciting to see that. I had no idea."
The Tar Heels closed the gap with Williams' 27-yard TD pass to Bug Howard, making it 42-31 going into the fourth quarter.
But Baylor answered with a 13-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a Terence Williams one-yard run, and then closed the door by playing keep-away for most of the final quarter.
"Unbelievable," Drango said. "All the hard work we've put in paid off. It's been so much fun here. I've loved this team, loved these guys and the coaches and everybody here. I'm just speechless. I'm so happy to go out like this."
Baylor beats North Carolina in Orlando's Russell Athletic Bowl
Baylor wins an upset victory
By DAVE CAMPBELL
There are upsets and then there are small upsets, big upsets and unforgettable, unpredictable, hard-to-explain upsets.
Mark the Baylor football team's 49-38 victory over the favored University of North Carolina Tar Heels as one of those upsets that few people expected and even fewer predicted. As a matter of fact, of those "experts" who make football predictions for a big-city newspaper that I read daily, there are eight or nine people who predict college football games (including bowl games) for that sports section. Before the Russell Athletic Bowl game was played, only one of those predictors said Baylor would win.
That was one in eight.
And why not? The Bears would be playing without their two top quarterbacks (junior Seth Russell who was recovering from a broken bone in his neck and gee-whiz true freshman Jarrett Stidham who had suffered a broken bone in his foot), also their national award-winning wide receiver Corey Coleman (post-regular season surgery from a hernia), also their 1,000-yard running back Shock Linwood (broken ankle) and also starting offensive right tackle Pat Colbert (torn shoulder muscle).
Missing those key elements, only those people who dote on long-shots would have picked Baylor. And remember, they would be playing a North Carolina team that gave Atlantic Coast Conference champion Clemson about all it could handle in their big showdown, and remember how Clemson beat Big 12 Conference champion Oklahoma decisively (37-17) in their game in their College Football Playoff game in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Eve.
But those few who did believe the Bears would win and said so, perhaps based their hunch on the belief that the Bears were fed up with losing bowl games. As Big 12 Conference football champions, they had lost the last two bowl games (to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl and Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl). And soothsayers also might have picked up on the clues presented in the second half of Baylor's season-ending loss to Texas.
And most important, those who thought the Bears would win must have been sold on the coaching genius of Baylor's Art Briles and what Briles and the Bears did in the second half against Texas. What they did in the Texas game was use their favored weapon (the forward pass) only sparingly and instead concentrated on their infantry; specifically, they concentrated on the Wildcat formation - or what we oldtimers used to call the single wing.
Did the Wildcat work in Orlando? Boy, did it work. It worked with gusto and then some. And as a result the Bears, playing before a crowd of 40,418 plus an ESPN audience of millions, turned what had been shaping up as close game into a convincing victory.
Would you believe these figures? The Bears passed for a paltry 111 yards (probably the fewest passing yards the Bears have had since Briles arrived at Baylor) but they RUSHED for 645 yards, an all-time Baylor single-season rushing total. And sophomore Johnny Jefferson, moving up in Linwood's absence, rushed for an incredible 299 yards and three touchdowns (the most ever for the Russell Athletic Bowl, and he came within nine yards of setting a new bowl rushing record for ANY bowl game ever).
"It was by far the best performance of my life," said Jefferson, a Killeen Shoemaker High School product. "We wanted to run the ball and pound it and see if they could stop us," he told John Werner (Waco Tribune-Herald) after the game.
The Tar Heels couldn't stop Johnny. They also couldn't stop junior Devin Chafin (161 yards) or sophomore Terence Williams (97 yards) or wideout-QB Lynx Hawthorne (63 yards) and they really didn't put any clamps on quarterback Chris Johnson (31 yards). Chafin averaged 6 yards per carry, Williams 6.1, Hawthorne 9.0 and Jefferson a gaudy 13.0.
Is it any wonder that Jefferson was voted the game's MVP? Even the next day, listening to TV football analysts talk about the bowl game they were watching and discussing that game, they also were still talking about Baylor's Johnny Jefferson and what he had done in Orlando.
So it was a great night for the Bears and their fans everywhere, and it gave coach Briles and his team plenty to think about and build on this spring.
And this spring, remember, they expect those two top quarterbacks to be healthy and raring to go, for Shock Linwood to be back along with all those other talented ball carriers, plus some proven and top-quality receivers, plus one veteran offensive lineman and a number of experienced members of the defensive platoon.
And word has it that Baylor coaches have NOT been asleep at the wheel in their recruiting endeavors for next season. We'll get more of those particulars on signing day in early February, but already they've started to restock their lineup with some December signatures, including several highly-rated juco recruits.
In the game in Orlando, the Tar Heels led only once. The first time they gained possession in the first quarter they used the talents of their highly-rated senior quarterback Marquise Williams (6-2, 225 and fast) and the pass snagging ability of Ryan Switzer, Quinshad Davis, Kendrick Singleton and Mack Hollins to drive 69 yards in 13 plays for their go-ahead points. Nick Weller kicked the extra point and North Carolina had a 7-0 lead.
And I suspect about then that Tar Heel fans settled back in their seats and prepared to celebrate, expecting the deluge had just begun. Of course, they were in for a big surprise. Baylor immediately answered and kept answering.
The first answer found the Bears driving 75 yards in 13 plays for the equalizing TD (Hawthorne scored the touchdown on a 6 yard run). Then before the first quarter ended the Bears moved ahead with a 6-play, 83-yard thrust that featured a 37-yard run by Hawthorne to the Tar Heel 3-yard line, making it easy for Chafin to score the TD. At the end of that quarter the Bears had already amassed 190 yards rushing (Jefferson had 90 by himself), a tell-tale harbinger of things to come.
The Tar Heels came back with a 64-yard kickoff return and a 9-play, 26-yard drive to the BU 15. But at that point the BU defense said that's far enough. So Weller kicked a 32-yard field goal.
Baylor answered with a 75-yard drive that included a roughing-the-punter penalty and reached the end zone with Jefferson's 11-yard scamper. Then when the Tar Heels tried to narrow the gap, Orion Stewart picked off one of Williams' passes and returned 24 yards to the BU 33. And from that point, there went the Bears again, driving 67 yards in 10 plays to take a 28-10 lead. Jefferson got loose on a 27-yard run in scoring that touchdown.
The Tar Heels did finally get their attack working, driving 75 yards in 10 plays to make it a 28-17 game at halftime. Williams scored the touchdown himself with a 4-yard run.
Baylor used the remaining 35 seconds to drive to the North Carolina 20-yard line, but in the final couple of seconds Chris Callahan missed a 37-yard field goal.
So at halftime the Bears held a 28-17 upper hand and already had rushed for 358 yards, usually more than enough for a full game. But they were still hungry. However, so were the Tar Heels. And coach Larry Fedora's team proved it by accepting the third quarter kickoff and driving 75 yards in 9 plays to score a touchdown and PAT that made it a 28-24 game.
The Bears still had plenty of work to do. And they did it. Although a pass interception thwarted their first effort (a 12-play 68-yard drive to the Tar Heel 8), their defense got the ball back at the BU 39 and that time there was no stopping them. They drove 61 yards in 8 plays to the payoff window (Chafin had runs of 14 and 17 yards and Terence Williams scored the touchdown from 3 yards out), and Callahan made it a 35-24 game.
Then things really began to take final shape. North Carolina's Elijah Hood immediately got loose on a 67-yard run to the BU 8-yard line (Xavien Howard finally stopped him), but T.J. Logan plowed to the Baylor 1-yard line on the next 2 plays. But when Logan tried to reach the end zone on his next carry, Baylor's Aiavion Edwards forced him to fumble and Orion Stewart recovered for the Bears in the end zone for a harmless touchback.
And then there went Jefferson, zip, zip, zip, 80-yards for a touchdown and a 42-24 Baylor lead. And while the Tar Heels had enough time to score two more TDs and the Bears one, the verdict had been rendered. Baylor was going to fly home the winner and never mind that NC's Williams threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to 6-6 wideout Bug Howard (that's his name in the game program, honest), Terence Williams scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge for Baylor and Williams threw a 7-yard TD pass to Kendrick Singleton in the final minutes of the game.
The final figures show the Bears dominated just about everything that mattered: more first downs (38 to 28), more total offense (756 to 487), more time of possession (37:06 to 22:54), more total offense plays (102 to 72), more QB sacks (2 to 0), more third down conversions (10 of 17 to 9 of 13) more fourth-down conversions (4 of 6 to 0 of 0), and more points off turnovers (14 to 0).
"I was hoping we would go out like this," BU's All-America offensive tackle Spencer Drango told the Trib's John Werner. "I love this for this team and everybody involved. I'm glad the seniors could end our careers on a high note and go out with a bowl victory."
And Fedora, an A&M Consolidated High School grad, also an Austin College (in Sherman) grad and a former assistant coach at Baylor, summed up the game with these words: "I didn't think they'd run for 645 yards. Our guys weren't where they needed to be and we missed tackles in the open field. But they did a good job of blocking up front. They basically ran it down our throats."
The Bears did what they needed to do on defense, too. Edwards, a 6-2, 200-pound junior linebacker, had a monster game; he was credited with a whopping 17 tackles (8 solo), including one sack, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a pass interception. Stewart and Grant Campbell both were in on seven tackles, Chance Waz on six and Howard on five, and linebacker Taylor Young had 4 stops and a QB sack.
And it was a happy team of Bears that flew back to Waco.