By Greg DeVries
Lariat Sports Editor
SAN DIEGO – The Baylor Bears will travel back home to celebrate the new year as the champions of the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl. The game was one-sided from the start, and Baylor rode the momentum to a 49-26 win over the No. 17 UCLA Bruins.
“I think we came out tonight and played extremely well,” head coach Art Briles said. “Offensively, [we made] some plays when we [needed] to. It’s very seldom that you can not win the return yardage battle, not win the turnover battle…and win the football game.”
This bowl win is Baylor’s second in as many years. Junior defensive end Chris McAllister was named defensive MVP, and sophomore running back Lache Seastrunk was named offensive MVP.
Baylor came out strong despite playing in a hostile environment in San Diego, just two hours drive time from UCLA. Junior running back Glasco Martin scored on Baylor’s second drive to give the Bears an early lead. Martin finished with 98 yards and three touchdowns.
Sophomore wide receiver Antwan Goodley scored on a quick 8-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Nick Florence on Baylor’s next possession.
Florence wasn’t done, however. Baylor next took a 21-0 lead off of a 55-yard touchdown pass from Florence to junior inside receiver Tevin Reese.
Florence finished with two touchdowns on 10 of 13 passing. He also threw for 188 yards and passed former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III’s record for passing yards in a single season.
“I hope when people look at me and see what I’ve done that [they see] it’s always been a team-first mentality,” Florence said. “It’s not about me. It’s all about this team. It’s all about what’s written on the front of our jerseys, and that’s what I want to be remembered for: being a team player and doing whatever I can for my team.”
Baylor only threw the ball twice in the entire second half because the Bears took a 35-10 lead into halftime, but the Bears’ offense kept on rolling on the ground.
“[The run game] was huge,” Florence said. “Again, O-line. Best O-line in America making running lanes, and we’ve got the best backs in America. They’ve done a heck of a job running the ball. Hats off to the O-line…they deserve all of the credit.”
On top of Martin’s production, Seastrunk rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown that was a 43-yard run towards the end of the first half. Seastrunk saw an opening and got into the secondary. He planted his foot in the ground and changed direction quick enough to elude the two defensive backs standing between him and the goal line.
“My linemen locked up on everybody,” Seastrunk said. “I just saw the Red Sea part. I just took off.”
The Baylor defense really stepped up and helped earn the win. On the season, the Bears recorded 13 sacks. Against UCLA, the Bears sacked Bruin quarterback Brett Huntley six times and had 12 tackles for loss.
“They were a great opponent and a really good team,” McAllister said. “We were just prepared for the game and had a good game plan and were able to execute… Coach Bennett is an aggressive coach. He likes to blitz. We tried to get a lot of pressure [on the quarterback.]”
The defense also did a great job of containing Bruin running back Jonathan Franklin. Franklin rushed for over 1,700 yards this season, but Baylor held him to 34 rushing yards on 14 attempts.
“He’s a guy that’s been extremely productive throughout his entire career,” Briles said. “I just felt we played very well up front on both sides of the ball.”
During the trophy presentation, Briles thanked Baylor nation that was present at the game. This included the hundreds of students that endured the 27-hour bus ride from Waco to San Diego.
Briles turned to the stands and smiled. “Baylor nation is alive and well,” he said.