Revamped running game key to Baylor’s Big 12 hopes

No. 32 sophomore running back Shock Linwood runs the ball Saturday afternoon against the Texas Longhorns.

No. 32 sophomore running back Shock Linwood runs the ball Saturday afternoon against the Texas Longhorns.
No. 32 sophomore running back Shock Linwood runs the ball Saturday afternoon against the Texas Longhorns.
By Cody Soto
Sports Writer

No. 5 Baylor football played in an unusually close Big 12 matchup against Texas on Saturday afternoon in Austin, and the underrated rushing game helped lead the team to a 28-7 victory over the Longhorns.

“It was the ultimate team win,” senior quarterback Bryce Petty said. “The offensive line and running backs did a tremendous job. It’s not just one or two people that had to play extremely well for us to have a good game.”

Often overshadowed by the Bears’ passing game, the rushing attack posted a season-high 278 offensive yards and a touchdown in a game where things did not seem to go right for Baylor’s wide receiver rotation.

“It was very big for us to step up the running game because it seemed like Bryce wasn’t himself on Saturday,” sophomore running back Shock Linwood said. “He wasn’t connecting with the receivers, and so it was our time to step up to the plate and grind it out like the coaches say. We kept it ugly, ran the ball and came out successful with it.”

The running game accounted for 17 of 22 first downs for Baylor, including an unexpected 19-yard run by senior punter Spencer Roth in the third quarter.

Linwood rushed for a season-high 148 yards and a touchdown in the win. Freshman Johnny Jefferson stepped in the game and added 72 yards on 11 carries, his second most impressive game behind his 107-yard day on Sept. 6.

“We just came into the game knowing that how we performed last week against Iowa State, that we had to be better in the running game. That was our thing to do – be better than the last game,” Linwood said.

Junior running back Silas Nacita did not see game action on Saturday until the last second but is proving to be a competitive player on the field with a notable 104-yard performance against Northwestern State on Sept. 6.

Head coach Art Briles said that the rushing game was made possible by the hard work of the offensive line that gave the running backs an opportunity to create first downs.

“The offensive line did a great job without question; that’s something that we had been stressing all year,” Briles said. “I’m proud that those guys were able to get in the trenches and play tough for us to give us a chance to maintain possessions. The other day first downs were like touchdowns, if you had a 14-point lead.”

In the highly competitive matchup, Petty only had 22 pass attempts and seven completions for 111 yards and two touchdowns. This comes as quite a surprise from the Heisman hopeful who posts an average of 256 passing yards per game.

Petty said that the rushing game was what was working for the offense in order for the team to gain first downs. The team’s decision to hand off the ball instead of passing it is not something a Baylor fan is used to seeing. Prior to Saturday’s game, the passing offense overpowered the Bears’ stat board.

“I think [the decision to run the ball] goes back to the flow of the game, and how our guys upfront were feeling and their production level,” Petty said. “Every time we handed the ball off I felt like we got some momentum there, and we picked up yards so that’s just how the game flowed.”

Linwood, Jefferson and Nacita will all play a vital role in Baylor’s top offense as it tries to repeat at Big 12 champs, along with sophomore running back Devin Chafin as he recovers from an ankle injury. The rushing offense has returned to the forefront of the national conversation, and Linwood does not expect it to go away soon.

“We’ve got to do better as each week progresses and in every game we play,” Linwood said. “Every game is a big game because it’s hard to win, and I can tell that this weekend is going to be really big.”

Baylor football will use its revamped rushing offense and established passing offense to uphold its 12-game home winning streak during the Bears’ anticipated top 10 matchup this weekend at McLane Stadium.

No. 5 Baylor faces No. 9 TCU at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in its first home game since Sept. 6. The game will be broadcast live on ABC.