Baylor defeats North Carolina 49-38 in Russell Athletic Bowl

The Baylor Bears defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels 49-38, on their way to a 10th win. With a bowl record 645 yards on the ground, the Bears ran around, over and through the Tar Heels to victory.

Your 2015 Baylor Bears are the winners of the Russell Athletic Bowl.  It is their 10th win of the season, their 4th ten win season in five years. A dominant 49-38 win powered by a record setting running attack was the happy ending to a difficult season for Baylor.  With injuries piling up all over the offense, especially at quarterback, the Bears lost three of their final four games of the regular season.  With stars Corey Coleman and Shock Linwood out for this game, the Bears were slight underdogs to an 11-win North Carolina team.  As Seth Russell and Jarrett Stidham watched from the sideline the record setting Baylor offense transitioned from a balanced attack to one that leaned almost exclusively on a running game powered by a rotating cast of five quarterbacks.  

The Tar Heels would strike first off of a 14-play drive that saw them convert four 3rd downs capped off by a 9-yard Brandon Fritts touchdown.  Baylor would respond with their own 13-play drive as Lynx Hawthorne would keep the ball on the zone-read for a 6-yard touchdown.  After a North Carolina punt, the Bears would score again after a 43-yard run by Johnny Jefferson would get the Bears into North Carolina territory.  Carolina would answer with a field goal drive after a big kickoff return to cut the lead to 14-10.  Baylor would again respond with a touchdown as Jefferson finished off the drive with the last 39 yards.  After an interception on a deep ball by Marquise Williams, the Bears would score again on another Johnny Jefferson run to push the lead to 28-10.  The Tar Heels would cut into the lead just before hafltime, as they took advantage of some Baylor penalties before Baylor missed a field goal as time expired to send the game into halftime at 28-17.  

North Carolina would score quickly after halftime to cut the deficit to four points.  After a Baylor tunover on the goalline courtsey of a Chris Johnson interception, the Baylor defense forced a big punt to give their offense another shot at extending their lead.  The Bears would score 21 of the next 28 points to push the game out of reach.  A late touchdown by UNC and a failed onside kick would end the game as Baylor went into their victory formation for the first time in 3-bowl games.  

Stats of the Game

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
  • The Bears utilized five quarterbacks in this game:  QB Chris Johnson, WR Lynx Hawthorne, RB Johnny Jeffereson, RB Devin Chafin and RB Terence Williams
  • Baylor ran for a bowl record 645 yards on the ground
  • Jefferson & Chafin's combined 460 rushing yards tonight set an NCAA bowl record for most rushing yards by a duo.
  • Baylor ran 102 plays, with 84 of them being rushes
  • The previous Russell Athletic Bowl game rushing record of 325 was broken by halftime by the Bears
  • With Jefferson getting 1,000 rushing yards on season tonight, BU has pair of 1,000-yard rushers (Linwood) for 1st time in BU history.

Words of the Game

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Offense - Physical

The level of physicality that the Bears displayed on offense was something that should quiet all nonsensical critics that incorrectly state that the Bears offense is a finese spread attack. They are not the "Air-Raid" offense.  They are, and have always been, closer to a wishbone style offense than anything else.  The Bears ran the ball 84 times against North Carolina, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.  The offensive line was just simply dictating everything in the game, as UNC was literally helpless to stop the Bears attack.  A bowl record 645 yards on the ground, with Johnny Jefferson ending up 1 single yard short of a 300-yard game.  The Bears went right at the Tar Heels defense, usually with a direct snap to a running back.  The Bears "new" offense looked like something from the 50s, that you would see on grainy film of Army facing off against Notre Dame.  Multiple running backs and tight ends in the backfield, with quick hand offs to wide receivers.  It was an offense from olden times, with the tempo and spread that Art Briles craves.  The Tar Heels had no chance against the Bears rushing attack.  In the second half when UNC dedicated more players to the line of scrimmage, the Bears started to attack through the air just enough to keep them honest.  In the end though, it was the Bears rushing attack that won the game, and then iced the game in the end.  

Defense - Solid

The Bears defense wasn't great in this game, but they were pretty good.  They allowed 487 total yards and 38 points, but came up with two huge turnovers and forced 3 UNC punts. The Tar Heels came up with big plays, but just a few huge ones.  Baylor did get some breaks, such as a Tar Heel player stepping out of bounds before running 80 yards for a touchdown.  They also had a couple of unlucky breaks as the end of the first half touchdown drive showed.  Marquise Williams hurt the Bears for 5 touchdowns and over 320 total yards.  When the Baylor defense needed to make plays though, they did.  

Play of the Game

3rd Quarter - 2:18 left, 1st and 10 at the Baylor 20

With the game 35-24, the Tarheels drove all the way down the field until Aiaivion Edwards forced a fumbled at the goal line to give the ball back to Baylor.  With the Bears at the 20-yard line, they lined up with Johnny Jefferson in the shotgun and Gus Penning to his left.  This was a formation the Bears had shown quite a bit and had run quite a few different plays from.  The most recent had been a jet sweep to KD Cannon that gained 10 yards.  The Tar Heels had been reacting heavily to any motion by the receivers.  This was a perfect time to run the counter of that.  

KD Cannon came from out wide to run the jet-sweep.  Jefferson faked the quick pass and ran to the strong side of the field as all of the blocking went to the short-side.  Every single defender in the middle of the UNC defense bought on the fake, following the blockers and going after Cannon.  With just two defensive backs on the side of the field, Jay Lee made a key block to spring Jefferson, who didn't even come close to a defender until 11 yards down the field. 

From that point on, it was a foot race, one that Jefferson would win.  There were three defenders who were farther down the field than Jefferson when he crossed the 30-yard line.  He would get tripped up at the 10-yard line, but keep his balance and finish off in the enzone, to put the Bears up 42-24.  

Players of the Game

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Offense -Johnny Jefferson (299 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns, 24 passing yards)

Welcome to the national spotlight, Mr. Johnny Jefferson.  The best player on the field, Jefferson ran for 299 yards and 3 touchdowns. He averaged 13 yards per carry and threw the longest pass of the game for the Bears, a 24-yarder to Ishmael Zamora.  He ran with authority when playing running back, but was truly dominant when positioned as the Bears "quarterback".   His 80-yarder in the third quarter was the biggest play of the game, and put the Bears back up by 3-scores.  The sophomore set a Russell Athletic Bowl record, and broke 1,000 yards on the season with his phenomenal effort.  

Defense - Aiavion Edwards (17 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 sack, 1 pass broken up)

The junior linebacker was all over the field Tuesday night, meeting ball carriers in the hole, and generally being a nuisance for the Tar Heel offense.  His forced fumble at the goalline might have been the biggest play of the game, as North Carolina was driving to cut the lead back down to 4 points.  With his perfect tackle, he dislodged the ball, allowing Orion Stewart to jump on it.  His 17 tackles were a career high.  

Summary

The excuses were there for the Bears.  Missing their top two quarterbacks, the best receiver in college football, their leading rusher and their starting right tackle for the final game of the season.  None of it mattered in the end, as the Bears pounded out 645 yards on the ground and 756 total yards of offense against 10th ranked North Carolina. The Bears, losers of their past two bowl games, simply were more physical on both lines than the Tar Heels.  The Baylor coaching staff stuck with the lessons they learned against Texas, using their running backs under center to carry the offense.  The UNC staff simply did not expect that, as they prepared for a more traditional Baylor attack.  The Bears just ran it, and ran it, and then ran it again.  84 rushing attempts with just 18 passes, a third of which were from non-traditional quarterbacks. It was a lesson in sticking with what is working, and the Bears just mauled UNC for a big win.  Kudos to the seniors on this team, and the coaching staff on overcoming so much to win this bowl game and secure their 10th win of the season.   


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