The 2016 Baylor Bears football season did not end with a whimper, as many expected at the end of a 6-game losing streak. It ended with possibly their best performance of the season, a dominating 31-12 victory over 10-2 Boise State. With an offense that moved the ball at will and a defense that snuffed out every promising drive for Boise State, Baylor showed the promise and got the results Bear fans were used to seeing the past few seasons.
Baylor was led by junior wide receiver KD Cannon, who set a Cactus Bowl record with 226 receiving yards on 14 catches. His two touchdowns sparked the Bears to a 14-3 lead, one which they would never relinquish. The night started off poorly for Cannon though, as a critical drop on a 4th down play deep in Boise State territory stopped a potential scoring drive for Baylor. After that mistake, and some unfortunate trash talking by the soon to be victimized BSU secondary, Cannon was unstoppable.
An acrobatic 30-yard touchdown over two defenders on 3rd and 25 started the big night, while a 68-yard catch and run on a perfectly thrown slant route by freshman quarterback Zach Smith, started off a massive 182 yard first half. With Boise State playing zone coverage, and usually playing 8-10 yards off the line of scrimmage, Baylor picked them apart with quick passes to the outside of the defense for small chunks of yardage.
Zach Smith had his best game of his true freshman campaign, completing 28 of 39 passes for 375 yards and 3 touchdowns. His lone blemish was an interception on the Bears opening drive that ended in the redzone.
The true star of the game was the maligned Baylor defense. Facing a Boise State offense that averaged 35.6 points per game, 27th best in the nation, Baylor simply dominated the redzone and got the stops they needed to. Time and time again, the Broncos drove the ball deep into Baylor territory but could not finish in the endzone.
A 17-play drive ended at the Baylor 8-yard line and ended with a 24-yard field goal. On the next drive, an Orion Stewart interception in the endzone ended another drive where Boise State had first and goal. The last drive before the half saw Boise State stall at the Baylor 9-yard line and settle for a second field goal. Even after halftime, Boise State would drive the down to the Baylor 5-yard line before a 4th down pass fell incomplete to give the Bears the ball back.
Baylor gained 515 yards of total offense, with Terence Williams rushing for 103 yards on 25 carries. He out-played his much more hyped junior opponent Jeremy McNichols who was playing his last game as a bronco. The All-MWC rusher gained only 46 yards on 19 carries as the Baylor defense held Boise State to just 2.2 yards per carry.
With the running game missing, sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien threw for over 300 yards. However, his two interceptions proved costly, as the Bears scored touchdowns on both subsequent drives.
The win is a final act of a difficult year, one that was rehashed in front of a national audience almost every Saturday. Even with that hanging over the programs head, the Bears fought in their season finale in a tough loss to West Virginia. With a few weeks of much needed rest, and several key players coming back from injury, the Bears finally put together a performance that reminded them of themselves. This was as good of a performance all season, right there with the Oklahoma State win that pushed the Bears into the Top-10 of the national polls.
It is a finale for Coach Jim Grobe, who took over not only a difficult situation, but a nearly impossible one. It is a finale for the group of seniors that were Bears for back-to-back Big 12 titles. It was a happy note that hopefully kicks off the new Matt Rhule era off on a good note. With Cannon breezing to his second touchdown, Coach Rhule happened to be in the commentators box speaking with the ESPN crew. With a big grin on his face, you could see the excitement and passion ready to burst out of him. It is a new day Baylor fans. It is a new day.