It's impressive enough to be historically good at one football thing. In the past year, Baylor has been historically impressive at two.
In last year's Cotton Bowl, Baylor squared off against Michigan State's run-stuffing defense. Art Briles had a solution: don't run. He had an NFL quarterback in Bryce Petty and two wide receivers worthy of double coverage in Corey Coleman and KD Cannon.
The result was 603 yards passing, a record for most ever in a bowl game, breaking a record Ty Detmer's BYU set in the 1989 Holiday Bowl. Petty had a career-high 550 yards passing, and Cannon and Coleman each cleared 150 yards receiving. Two late missed field goals and a lack of a running game cost the Bears, who lost a 42-41 thriller, but it wasn't for lack of offense.
In Tuesday night's Russell Athletic Bowl, Baylor didn't have those options. Petty's successor, Seth Russell, had a season-ending injury, as did his successor, Jarrett Stidham, as did Coleman. Starting running back Shock Linwood was hurt, too.
Briles devised a new scheme. He had five players — one actual quarterback, two running backs, and two wide receivers — take snaps out of the wildcat, and he ran the ball over and over and over and over.
The result? Absolute domination. The Bears ran for 645 yards, a record for most ever in a bowl game, breaking a record Tommie Frazier and Nebraska set in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. Johnny Jefferson, a backup until the last game of the season, had 299 yards, the most of any player in 2015 and second most in bowl history. They hung 49 points on No. 10 North Carolina, winning more comfortably than No. 1 Clemson did in the ACC Championship.
They did this with an offense that resembled 1930s football: no passing, few handoffs, not even a ton of misdirection. They did this with a few speedy guys and mashing offensive line play. They did this with an offense they didn't play for the majority of the season, an offense UNC couldn't have really known was coming, other than some hints from what Baylor did in its last game against Texas.
Back up from postgame interviews. The consensus, from Fedora to players: They had no idea Baylor would run that much wildcat.— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) December 30, 2015
When people see Baylor putting up tons of points, some blow it off, assuming there's some type of gimmickry afoot.
Briles uses some "system," some bogus football that puts up points but wouldn't stand a chance against the true football your team plays. The Bears are one-trick ponies.
Actually analyzing what Baylor does makes it clear that is not the case. You should read Ian Boyd from 2013 about "the Art of offense:"
It's not the air raid. It's not the run ‘n' shoot. It's not just a spread offense. Baylor's hybrid offensive approach essentially combines many of the greatest tactics in offensive football into one cohesive and simple package.
Maybe you thought Baylor was monotone after last year's bowl or as Russell and Coleman combined for touchdown after touchdown this season. Perhaps that was confirmed when Russell, Stidham, and third-stringer Chris Johnson went down, turning the once-mighty Bears into a team capable of losing to lowly Texas.
Hopefully, this performance shuts up that talk. Briles had his offense reduced to a shell by injuries. But he found the remaining strengths of his team and figured out how to use them to attack the weaknesses of his opponent.
You thought his car could only drag race. But he took all the parts, rejiggered them, and emerged from the garage a month later with a car that could win the Daytona 500.
It's one of the most impressive coaching jobs I've ever seen, and a reminder never to sleep on a brilliant coach with time and talent at his disposal.
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