clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Baylor had to use 5 different QBs in one game ... and still broke bowl records vs. No. 10 UNC

New, comments

The Bears were without their top two quarterbacks and top two weapons, which makes this one of the most impressive offensive performances in bowl season history.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Remember how Ohio State overcame two quarterback injuries last year? No. 17 Baylor had to deal with about double that along the way to its fourth 10-win season in five years, capping with a 49-38 win over No. 10 North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

The plan? Just run. Change quarterbacks. Run some more. Hand off to somebody. Run again.

The Bears broke the bowl's rushing record ... in the first half, with 358. They put up the most rushing yards an Art Briles team ever had ... in the first half. (That's saying something. Despite the popular assumption, Baylor runs all the time. The Bears ranked No. 4 in the country in rushing attempts per game before this one.)

The final total before kneeldowns: 756 yards, 645 of them on the ground, an all-time rushing record for any bowl (524 by Nebraska in the 1996 Fiesta). Johnny Jefferson led with 299 rushing yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns, also throwing for 24.

That's against an ACC Coastal champion defense that ranked either No. 35 or No. 65 in the country, depending on whether you like raw or advanced stats, and held eight opponents to 21 or fewer points.

Starting quarterback Seth Russell, freshman backup QB Jarrett Stidham, and former wide receiver third-stringer Chris Johnson have all been injured at points, with BU's elite offense slipping more and more along the way. The top two quarterbacks were still out for the bowl. Also out were All-America wide receiver Corey Coleman and 1,400-yard running back Shock Linwood.

SIGN UP TO GET THIS IN YOUR INBOX

Get one roundup of college football stories, rumors, game breakdowns, and Jim Harbaugh oddity in your inbox every morning.

But this time, Baylor had a chance to modify its emergency offense.

Briles' offense is a mix of spread and power concepts designed to make opponents defend the width of the field while being hammered up the middle. You can read more about how it works here, but it works. Despite injuries, the Bears ranked No. 1 in scoring and No. 4 in opponent-adjusted Offensive S&P+.

In the regular season finale against Texas, the banged-up Bears' solution was trotting out receiver Lynx Hawthorne at quarterback, running some wildcat, and bringing in Jefferson for the Hail Mary. It all almost worked, and it was amazing watching talented players and a great coaching staff assemble a 1915-vintage game plan on the fly.

With more time to prepare, Briles and friends put together even more of an ensemble. Five players took snaps on the first two drives alone against UNC.

GIFs via ESPN

They all threw a little bit, with the combined final passing line of 10-for-18, 111 yards, and one interception.

It just kept working, and then it worked even bigger.

UNC knew what was coming on almost every play and couldn't shake enough blocks to do anything about it. Baylor's offensive line includes Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year Spencer Drango, two All-Big 12 second-teamers, and versatile blockers like 410-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan.

The Heels looked overwhelmed up front, regularly sailing a yard off the line of scrimmage. Facing dozens of runs only eroded that front more and more.

That heft meant steady gains on almost every snap (only one play resulted in a loss, per ESPN), with the run game eventually supplying the big plays usually provided by both the run and the pass.

When Baylor did bother with trying to surprise UNC, the Heels were helpless. Here's Jefferson taking advantage of UNC's entire defense committing to a sweep by breaking the other way for 80 yards:

Baylor dumping 645 rushing yards on the No. 10 team is impressive. Baylor doing that with half its offense tied behind its back is the kind of thing EA Sports would make you do for an achievement in NCAA Football.

SIGN UP TO GET THIS IN YOUR INBOX!

Get one roundup of college football stories, rumors, game breakdowns, and Jim Harbaugh oddity in your inbox every morning.

* * *

SB Nation presents: All 40 college football bowl games, in one song