Baylor innovates offense to outpace North Carolina, 49-38, to capture Russell Athletic Bowl
Orlando, Florida (December 30, 2015) – Looking forward to a high-scoring affair in the matchup, I told people I didn’t know who was going to win, but based on what I did know, take the “over”. With two starting QBs lost by Baylor during the season and not outscoring three of their last four opponents with an overwhelming offense that was decimated by the end of the season, the question was what would Bear HC Art Briles do to re-establish his scoring machine to outscore the high-flying Tar Heel offense. What could he do to offset his two quarterbacks lost to season-ending injuries? What he did was unique. He improvised using a combination of less experienced QBs, his running backs, and a little used WR throughout the game to take snaps directly from center using their combined talents of speed and athleticism to rack up 645 yards on the ground and 756 overall for Russell Athletic Bowl records to outpace Carolina in an interesting and exciting contest, 49-38. Briles adapted brilliantly using the talent he had to offset the losses of QBs Seth Russell (concussion) and Jarrett Stidham (ankle). For Collegefootballfan.com, we attended this game with first time Guest Game Analyst and cousin Anthony Cavalli, UCF grad and recent, former Flight Surgeon in the US Air Force. Looking to continue his medical career after the service, he had such a good time at the RAB Fanfest and at the game, he’s moved Baylor high on his list of medical schools to continue working at and learning. He even bought a Baylor t-shirt! It was his first time attending a college football game, and it will not be his last, he declared.
UNC scored first utilizing a no-huddle offense as QB Marquise Williams (243 yards passing, three TD passes, two TD runs) tossed a TD pass to TE Brandon Fritts for an early 7-0 lead. The Bears responded with a 75-yard scoring drive as Lynx Hawthorne, who carried the ball ten times during the season and only caught ten passes, took the direct snap from center for a 7-yard touchdown run. On their next series, he caught a pass from QB Johnny Jefferson to get to the three. This time RB Devin Chafin (161 rushing yards, one TD) took the snap from there to gain a 14-7 lead for the Bears who were getting the ball into many various offensive players’ hands.
In the second period, the Tar Heels started the scoring again with a 32-yard FG by Nick Weiler after a sack of Williams on a third and eight. UNC forced Baylor to punt on the next series, but a roughing the kicker penalty kept the drive alive to the detriment of the No. 10 Tar Heels. Behind center, Jefferson (299 yards, three TDs) took the snap at the eleven, dropped back to pass, and then ran the draw to put the Bears up, 21-10. An interception by BU Safety Orion Stewart gave back the ball on their 33. Down to the UNC 30, Jefferson went up the middle for another score now looking to blow the Tar Heels away. However, with the help of two questionable calls, the Heels’ Williams ran a QB draw at the four to cut the lead back down, 28-17, before the half.
Anthony and I took an Uber ride to the Citrus Bowl Stadium from his house (and back after the game) about 12 miles away and entered the Fanfest adjacent to the stadium. A few beers and a Jack Daniels bar stop were enjoyed before we went in and after a few warmups back at his place. We ended up sitting on the Baylor side of the field and enjoyed sitting amongst some other fans we met from neither side but there to enjoy seeing a good game among the 30,418 in attendance. On New Years’ Day, Michigan and Florida will meet here in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Anthony had such a good time at this one, he contemplated coming back on Friday if he is recovered from New Year’s Eve. He thoroughly enjoyed attending his first college football game. He follows the pros, but with my introduction and a promise that wherever his career move takes his (i.e. Nebraska, Michigan State, Minnesota…now Baylor?), our cousin Frank Scarpa and I plan to track him down and take him to another good game. We all look forward to it!
North Carolina took the opening kickoff and brought the score closer as Williams finished the drive with a two-yard TD run off tackle to bring the Heels within four, 28-24. They looked to take the lead after S Dominque Green intercepted QB Chris Johnson’s pass to start from their nine. However, a targeting call (we thought another questionable one) and the ejection of Carolina WR Austin Proehl put UNC in a punting situation from their seven. BU took over at its 39. Briles’ offense got back down to business and RB Terrence Williams (97 yards, two TDs) dove over from the three to extend the lead for Baylor once again, 35-24. Carolina seemed poised to come right back when Elijah Hood rushed 67 yards to the Baylor eight, but T.J. Logan fumbled it away into the end zone on the next play back and the Bears got the ball back out on the 20. From there, Jefferson shook one tackler and raced past the Tar Heel secondary for an 80-yard touchdown run. Every time we thought Baylor had put Carolina away, they would bounce back. Before the third expired, Williams completed five consecutive passes with the final one to Bug Howard for a 27-yard scoring pass. Baylor led going onto the final frame, 42-31. Would either offense falter?
The Bears continued on a drive into the fourth and Terrence Williams scored his second TD from the one to pull away once again, 49-31. The Bears’ D forced a punt. The Heels dug in and halted a drive on their 36 to take back over on downs. From there they went on a scoring drive culminating in a seven-yard TD pass to TE Kendrick Singleton with 2:20 left to play. Carolina went for the onside kick, but Baylor handled it in the end and they ran out the clock for a high-scoring, exciting victory as No. 17 Baylor (10-3) defeated No. 10 North Carolina (11-3) in the Russell Athletic, 49-38.
It was a great win authored by one of the most resilient Head Coaches we’ve ever seen perform, Art Briles. It’s a great testimony to witness his game day coaching skills to not totally defer entirely to his recruiting capabilities. Despite the loss of not only two QBs but his top runner and receiver as well, he took the talent he had and honed a game plan against a top-ranked opponent and made his offense work with the horses available. There were no excuses. Give him great credit. After 505 college football games, this had to be the most innovative we’ve ever seen put together by any coach. Tremendous! We were glad we could be in Orlando to see this one.