SAN DIEGO — Making its first bowl trip to California, Baylor did its part to uphold Holiday Bowl tradition by scoring fast and often.
UCLA’s vaunted offense never lived up to its billing. And that’s because Baylor’s defense played like it was ecstatic to face any team that doesn’t call the Big 12 home.
It added up to a tour de force performance by the Bears as they pounded the No. 17 Bruins, 49-26, for their most lopsided bowl win in school history before 55,507 fans Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium.
“It means a lot because of the history of the Holiday Bowl,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “It gave us a chance of getting on a national stage with a university that’s nationally respected, and fortunately we were able to get out of here with a great bowl win. It’s sure going to make the next five or six months a lot better.”
After winning last year’s Alamo Bowl over Washington, the Bears have won bowl games in consecutive years for the first time since 1985-86. While last year’s 67-56 win over the Huskies went down to the wire, the Bears (8-5) took command against UCLA (9-5) with a 35-10 halftime lead and cruised to the win.
Playing its first bowl outside of Texas in 21 years, the Bears put together their most complete game since upsetting then-No. 1 BCS ranked Kansas State, 52-24, on Nov. 17 at Floyd Casey Stadium. They finished the season with four straight wins after ending last season with six straight wins.
“I’ve been told that winning a bowl game your senior year is one you’ll remember the rest of your life,” Baylor quarterback Nick Florence said. “I get to remember that the rest of my life. I love this team, and I’d do anything for them. We’ve got a fight that never dies.”
Capping a terrific senior season, Florence hit 10 of 13 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns, and broke Robert Griffin III’s school record by passing for 4,309 yards. Lache Seastrunk continued his late-season dynamics as he rushed for 138 yards while Glasco Martin added 98 yards and three touchdowns.
But nothing was more important to Baylor’s lopsided bowl win than a defense that delivered perhaps its best performance of the season.
After coming into the game with just 13 sacks this season, the Bears smothered UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley by collecting a season-high six sacks. Chris McAllister earned the game’s defensive MVP by picking up two sacks while Bryce Hager, Eddie Lackey, Terrance Lloyd and Gary Mason had one apiece.
Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett perfectly mixed blitzes and straight rushes to put tremendous pressure on Hundley.
“Coach Bennett is aggressive and likes to blitz,” McAllister said. “We tried to get pressure on their quarterback. We did a lot of film study and had a lot of time to prepare. We felt our defensive line knew their offensive line.”
The Bears also limited Johnathan Franklin to 34 yards rushing on 14 carries after he came into the game ranked among the nation’s top rushers with 1,700 yards. UCLA scored two of its three touchdowns after the Bears fumbled twice in their own territory.
“We came out playing extremely well defensively and contained the run,” Briles said. “Franklin is a very productive runner but we played real well up front on both sides of the ball.”
The Bears couldn’t have put together a more impressive first half as their offense ran up and down the field at will and their defense collected five sacks to grind UCLA’s offense to a halt.
Florence hit eight of 11 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns in the first half while Baylor’s running game piled up 168 yards.
After failing to score on the first offensive series, Baylor’s defense set the trend for the night when Lloyd sacked Hundley for an 11-yard loss.
With Levi Norwood returning a punt for 17 yards, the Bears moved 53 yards for their first touchdown. The biggest play was Florence’s 20-yard pass to Terrance Williams to the 14, and Martin did the rest as he ran three times before going into the end zone standing with a 4-yard touchdown run.
After UCLA couldn’t move again on its next drive, Baylor needed just seven plays to move 84 yards for its second score.
Under heavy pressure by UCLA’s defense, Florence threw a perfect pass to Williams down the right sideline for 48 yards to the 32. Florence finished off the drive with an 8-yard bullet to Antwan Goodley to push Baylor’s lead to 14-0 with 4:22 left in the first quarter.
Once again, Baylor’s defense delivered great pressure against Hundley as McAllister and Lackey came up with sacks on the next two possessions.
“They played physical, aggressive and well,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “We had depth concerns because we lost two starting offensive linemen in the first half. We were down and they pinned their ears back and came after us.”
Florence found Tevin Reese sprinting down the right sideline for a 55-yard touchdown to propel the Bears to a 21-0 lead with 11:08 left in the first half.
The Bruins finally got a break when Eric Kendricks nailed Baylor tight end Jordan Najvar after a catch and Randall Goforth recovered the fumble at Baylor’s 21.
Hundley spotted Joseph Fauria over the middle for a 22-yard touchdown to cut Baylor’s lead to 21-7 with 6:21 left in the second quarter.
UCLA’s touchdown didn’t faze the Bears as they scored one of their own as Martin finished off a 75-yard drive with a 26-yard blast up the middle.
After Lloyd got another sack for the Bears, Seastrunk broke into the clear and faked out Goforth before sprinting away for a 43-yard touchdown to stretch Baylor’s lead to 35-7 with 1:58 left in the first half.
“Everybody locked up on their man, and I saw the Red Sea part and I took off,” Seastrunk said.
Despite playing sparingly in the first half of the season, Seastrunk finished with 1,012 yards rushing and was named offensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl.
The Bruins got a 30-yard field goal from Ka’imi Fairbairn with seven seconds left in the half, but Baylor clearly dominated.
After rolling up the 25-point halftime lead, the Bears mostly stuck to the ground in the second half to work time off the clock.
Following Seastrunk’s 39-yard blast to UCLA’s 18, Martin ran five straight times and completed the drive with a 1-yard plunge on fourth down to push Baylor’s lead to 42-13 with 1:52 left in the third quarter.
Florence scored Baylor’s final touchdown on a 1-yard run to open up a 49-19 lead with 7:46 remaining in the game.
UCLA scored on the final play of the game on Hundley’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Logan Sweet. But it was far too late to catch a hot Baylor team that brought home its second straight bowl win.
“I think I’ll wake up tomorrow and understand what happened tonight,” Florence said. “Still soaking it in, you know?”