By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor, Video by Drake Toll |Broadcast Reporter
NEW ORLEANS — No. 7 Baylor football fell 28-14 to No. 5 Georgia Wednesday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl after being held to 93 total yards of offense in the first half without making a score.
While the Bears might have ended their season on a two-game losing streak, those losses don’t take away from the fact that Baylor accomplished something no one thought they could.
“I know tonight hurts,” head coach Matt Rhule said. “I know it’s painful for our guys, but they can’t let that deter what they’ve done this season. As I told them, we were picked to not even be here. We got to the championship game. We got to the Sugar Bowl and just quite weren’t able to get over the hump. And so I think all of us were a little frustrated at halftime with the way we played in the first half.”
Despite not playing their best football in the first two quarters, the Bears have never been ones to quit when faced with a challenge. Baylor put up 202 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
Trailing 19-0 at intermission, the Bears came back after the half and opened up their offense to start the third quarter with a deep 40-yard pass from junior quarterback Charlie Brewer to senior wideout Denzel Mims. Six plays later, after advancing 23 yards to the Georgia 12-yard line, Brewer once again connected with Mims to put Baylor on the board. Brewer rushed in the Bears’ second touchdown with four minutes left in the quarter.
But the Bears lost any momentum they had gained from those drives when Brewer went down in the fourth quarter after being hit at the end of a nine-yard run out of bounds. Redshirt freshman Gerry Bohanon took over for two plays before true freshman Jacob Zeno was sent in to finish the game.
It was a scary moment for everyone in the stadium when Brewer didn’t get up after what was ruled a personal foul on Georgia’s Travon Walker. Since the Austin native had just come off concussion protocol a few weeks ago after a helmet-to-helmet hit, Rhule said the concern was around the condition of Brewer’s neck, but that he cleared the C-spine and would be monitored for head symptoms throughout the night.
“Charlie is just a competitor,” Rhule said. “He’s a winner. He’s tough … [It was] scary when they were holding his head and all that and stabilized his neck, and he’s yelling at them to let go of him and let him go back in the game. He’s just that kind of guy. He’s a great player whose best football is ahead of him.”
Things weren’t going all that well for the Bears on the defensive front during the first half either. Junior defensive end James Lynch said the defense wasn’t “being themselves” in the first half.
“I feel like we played a lot better the second half and it still wasn’t enough, but I’m glad that we came and fought back,” Lynch said. “I feel like we just weren’t doing what we normally did. We were just flying around. We weren’t doing our jobs. That starts with the front of the D-line, which I mean myself. So when we came out and fixed it we started stopping them in the second half.”
While Baylor had a difficult time getting to the quarterback in the first half, the Bears’ three-man front was able to bring down Bulldogs junior QB Jake Fromm three times on the second. Lynch completed his team-leading 22nd career sack, with now 13.5 on the season, early in the fourth quarter to end a Georgia drive. Senior defensive ends James Lockhart and Bravvion Roy had back-to-back sacks at the end of the third quarter.
But even more uncharacteristic was that, for a team that forced 30-plus turnovers during the year, the Bears weren’t able to create a single takeaway against Georgia. Senior linebacker Jordan Williams, who had a possible interception just slip through his fingers in the first half, said the Baylor defense just didn’t have the spark they needed during the first 30 minutes that they were on the field.
“I feel like we went out there, we weren’t having fun,” Williams said. “The first half, we weren’t having as much fun as we should have. We should enjoy it. We’re here, we’ve worked so hard to be here. We play good defense when we have fun. I feel like that energy just resonates with the whole team. The message was, ‘Don’t worry, just work, just keep on having fun. Enjoy this last moment with your brothers.'”
A key player in upsetting the Baylor offense was Bulldogs wide receiver George Pickens, who earned Most Valuable Player with a bowl-record 12 receptions for 175 yards and a touchdown. Pickens caught nine of Fromm’s first 10 completions, evading the Bears’ defense to make big plays.
After starting the game with two three-and-outs in its first three drives, Georgia kickstarted the offense with a flea-flicker play on a 46-yard deep pass to Pickens that set up the Bulldogs for a field goal.
“They got us on the flea-flicker-type play,” Rhule said. “We were playing great defense and they ran the flea-flicker-type play there. I’m not sure exactly how they did it but hard, hard play action. Got behind us. Another great play to run them down. That spooked us out of some of our stuff. Gave them some free access plays.
Thought they made great plays. Third and one, man coverage, they threw it out and made the play. We zero blitzed. They found him. I thought we played better against him in the second half.”
The Bulldogs then set the pace for the second quarter with Pickens’ 27-yard TD reception coupled with another FG by graduate kicker Rodrigo Blankenship to take a 13-0 lead. Georgia ended the half with a post pass by Fromm to redshirt sophomore Matt Landers but the attempted two-point conversion was unsuccessful, as junior safety/cornerback Grayland Arnold swatted it away.
The Bulldogs managed to sneak in one more touchdown, a 13-yard dash by Zamir White, in between both Baylor scores, thanks in part to a failed fourth down conversion by the Bears crossing the 50-yard line. Brewer was sacked for a loss of seven on a decision that Rhule said he very much regretted.
“That was bad coaching by me,” Rhule said. “It just quickly led to points on their end. That goes on me. You just can’t make bad decisions like that.”
Despite not being able to accomplish the sweet ending they had hoped for, what the Bears were able to do in the last three years will leave a lasting impact on Baylor football. Rhule, Lynch and several of the underclassmen credited that to the seniors on the team who were unrelenting in how they worked to rebuild the program from 1–11 to 11-3.
“No one on our team— not one young guy on our team doesn’t know what it means to work because of [the seniors],” Rhule said. “When Chris Miller went down, they said MCL, I’m sitting there saying, ‘You’re done for the day.’ He said, ‘I’m finishing the game.’”
Bravvion [Roy] had knee surgery after the Big 12 championship, making big plays.
“These guys play a thousand reps,” Rhule said. “So they’ve… they’ve rebuilt and got us to this point. But more importantly, they also set the example for what we have to do moving forward.”
Baylor knows what they have to do going forward to continue playing in big games like the Sugar Bowl, and eventually, to win big games against big teams.
“As weird as it sounds, and as a competitor, I feel like when you lose it’s actually really good for you,” Lynch said. “We can watch this and it’s perfect to spring us into next year and figure out what we need to do and if we need to be stronger and faster, whatever it was that didn’t work today. So, as much as it hurts right now, it’s going to help us for next year. We’ll know how to play a team like Georgia.”