Baylor football has long been known as one of the top passing attacks in the country. However, after three games played, it wasn’t the Bears aerial game that has them in front.
“IT’S A LITTLE MIND-BOGGLING HONESTLY.” – HEAD COACH ART BRILES
The No. 5 Bears lead the nation in rushing yards per game (379.7), a rare feat for the program. The Bears also lead in yards per rush attempt (7.8).
Head coach Art Briles said he knew the running game has been good, but even was surprised to be the No. 1 team in the nation (in rushing).
“It’s a little mind-boggling honestly, when you think of Georgia Tech, Navy, and other predominantly rush teams across the nation,” Briles said. “But I think it just falls in place of what we’ve had happen, so far. If we’re sitting after 12 games and we’re still top 10 rushing, which is kind of what we’d like to be year-in and year-out, then that’s a pretty good deal.”
Those numbers have helped the Bears remain balanced on offense and win their non-conference games by an average margin of 41 points.
The production in the running game can be attributed to the fact that Baylor returned all five starters from a season ago.
“We’ll probably get overlooked because of our receivers and how much people talk about them.” – RUNNING BACK SHOCK LINWOOD
The chemistry between the linemen and running backs from last season has worked out well for the Bears in 2015.
“Our offensive line and the connection that we have with each other [helps us to run the ball so effectively],” said junior running back Shock Linwood.
Baylor’s offensive line helped the running game get off to one of the best starts in program history this season. The Bears’ rushing stats have improved each week as they ran for 300 yards against SMU, 412 yards against Lamar and a season-high 427 yards against Rice.
“I think it does say a lot about our O-line,” Briles said. “Those guys are experienced; we felt like we’d be really good up front. Our O-line played as well the other day as they have all year. That’s the heart and soul of our team.”
Linwood, the team’s leading rusher, has 363 yards on the season with 8.6 yards per carry. His ability to get hit and remain on his feet has made him one of the most effective runners for Baylor, Linwood said.
“It’s something that I’ve always had – balance and awareness,” Linwood said. “So just being able to stay up helps me gain more yards and I use it to the best of my ability.”
Even with the storied success, the Linden native realizes that the running game is sometimes overlooked with Baylor being tabbed “WRU.” Despite not getting as much attention around the country, Linwood did point out how vital the ground game is to the offense.
“We’ll probably get overlooked because of our receivers and how much people talk about them,” Linwood said. “But, as they see, our running game helps out our passing game. For us to be dominant in our pass game, we have to be dominant in our run game as well. We just need to show up every week and show everyone that we can run the ball.”
Briles is in agreement with Linwood on the importance of the Bears’ run game for the whole offense.
“If Coach [Art Briles] says we’re hitting 350 (rushing) yards a game, then that’s what we’re hitting.” – SENIOR TACKLE SPENCER DRANGO
Briles said Baylor is fortunate enough to have skilled players at various positions. Briles went even further to say having a strong running game is the top priority.
“That’s something that we always kind of hang our hat on – if we need to get dirty, we can get dirty,” Briles said. “If it’s third and one, we like to think we can get that. That’s something we like to take pride in as coaches and players.”
Junior quarterback Seth Russell said the running game has helped take pressure off his shoulders in his first season as a starter.
“We can run the ball because the offensive line has done an amazing job opening up those running lanes. If we can continue to do that, it’s going to open up the passing game too, and we can continue to go from there,” Russell said.
Senior tackle Spencer Drango, last year’s Big 12 Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year, said most the team’s success rides on the backs of the linemen.
“A lot of it is on the O-line and all of us up front,” Drango said. “We’re doing our job and what’s expected of us. If Coach [Art Briles] says we’re hitting 350 (rushing) yards a game, then that’s what we’re hitting. It also speaks about our [running] backs. [We have] three guys – Shock [Linwood], Johnny [Jefferson], and Terence [Williams] – playing their butts off out there.”
Drango said the Bears’ balanced offense forces opposing teams to “pick its poison”. Defenses have to guess what’s coming next, Drango said.
“It does put a lot of pressure on teams,” Drango said. “If they play the pass, we’re going to run for 400 yards. If they play the run, we’re going to throw for 400 yards. I think they complement each other really well.”
With Big 12 conference play starting up this weekend, the team knows of the importance on both sides of the football.
Running back Shock Linwood said the dominating performance against Rice was big for momentum, but guys have to be hungrier with the game against Texas Tech approaching.
“Since it’s conference, we’re going to have to dial-in even more and increase our run game just a step more,” Linwood said.
Given the fact that the Bears already lead the nation in rushing, a stronger run game would seemingly prove unstoppable.
Baylor looks to unleash the ground attack when they take on Texas Tech at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium.