ORLANDO, FLA. – The No. 17 Bears played in state they never played in before (Florida) and won in a way they never have won before. Fueled almost entirely by the run-game, the No. 17 Bears overpowered the No. 10 North Carolina Tar Heels for a 49-38 win in the Russell Athletic Bowl at the Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
Baylor fans were probably expecting to see sophomore quarterback Chris Johnson taking the majority of the snaps for the Bears’ offense before the Russell Athletic Bowl kicked off in Orlando, Fla.
But the very notion of playcalling a Baylor offense that would look at all like it usually does was quickly thrown out the window. By Baylor’s second drive, the idea Johnson running the majority Baylor’s offense against No. 10 North Carolina’s defense became an afterthought.
Baylor stumbled through its first drive, turning the ball over on downs, alternating between spread and designed Wildcat runs. UNC assumed possession and scored to take the lead 7-0. It looked it would be an uphill climb for the Bears all game long.
The Bears switched entirely to the Wildcat (formation in which a non-quarterback player receives the snaps by design) on the next drive. After that drive, the Wildcat offense became Baylor’s bread and butter. Baylor’s offensive line wore down UNC’s defensive line.
Sophomore running back Johnny Jefferson, junior running back Devin Chafin and junior receiver Lynx Hawthorne shared the bulk of the Wildcat duty and yielded positive results for the Bears all night.
In the Bears’ regular season finale against Texas, Johnson went out of the game with a concussion and gave the Bears no choice but to play non-quarterback players at the quarterback position for the rest of the game.
Although it was unorthodox for the Bears’ offense, Baylor nearly pulled out the win against the Longhorns without an actual quarterback taking snaps.
With weeks to prepare for the Russell Athletic Bowl, knowing full well that the Bears’ offense may not have a healthy quarterback come game-day, Baylor made sure it was prepared to run a powerful offense against the Tar Heels, regardless of personnel.
Jefferson was the cornerstone of Baylor’s offense in the Russell Athletic Bowl. He was either taking the snaps directly in the Wildcat formation or he was taking hand-offs when Johnson was in at quarterback in the spread formation.
Johnson had a record-breaking night, scoring three rushing touchdowns (a Russell Athletic Bowl record) and 299 yards rushing (another Russell Athletic Bowl record and second all-time in bowl history).
Baylor, a team often touted as having an “Air Raid Offense”, rushed for 640 yards, and ended up shattering the bowl game record for 648 total rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns and just 111 yards passing.
The defense’s highlight, and perhaps the game-breaker of the night, came in the second half when junior linebacker Aiavion Edwards forced a fumble on the goal-line which was recovered by junior safety Orion Stewart in the end zone for a touch-back.
On the very next play, Jefferson took a direct snap and ran the ball for 80-yards (a Russell Athletic Bowl record) to the house. UNC head coach Larry Fedora called the fumble and the touchdown a 14-point swing in Baylor’s favor.
Baylor closes the season with a 10-3 record, making it three straight season the Bears earned 10 wins.