ORLANDO, Fla. — Somewhere Pop Warner and Jim Thorpe are sharing a toast.
Hammered by injuries, Baylor coach Art Briles and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles dusted off the single wing, one of the oldest and most basic offenses in the books.
Setting a FBS bowl record with 645 yards rushing, the No. 18 Bears stomped and pounded their way to a 49-38 win over No. 10 North Carolina before 40,418 fans on Tuesday night.
Modernists call it the Wildcat formation, but it’s really a variation of the single wing that was created more than a century ago by Warner and made effective by Thorpe’s brilliant running.
Baylor used the Wildcat out of desperation in a regular season-ending 23-17 loss to Texas on Dec. 5, after quarterback Chris Johnson went out with a first-quarter concussion.
But it’s obvious the Briles spent the holidays adding new wrinkles to the Wildcat as Johnny Jefferson set a Russell Athletic Bowl record with 299 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while also setting an all-time Baylor single-game rushing mark.
Art Briles sent Kendal Briles to do postgame interviews, and he was elated by how Baylor’s running game dominated the Tar Heels all night.
“It is staggering,” Kendal Briles said. “The last couple of weeks we had some of the best practices we’ve had. Our guys were creating a lot of space in the run game and they were taking advantage of it. Once we kind of got into the groove of the game, it just felt like if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The massive rushing numbers paid off big time for a Baylor team that limped into the game with three losses in the previous four games.
Limping was the operative word since Baylor’s top two quarterbacks, Seth Russell (broken neck) and Jarrett Stidham (ankle injury), were both unavailable. Biletnikoff Award winning receiver Corey Coleman was out following hernia surgery while starting running back Shock Linwood was out with a broken foot and right offensive tackle Pat Colbert missed the game with a torn labrum.
Despite the deluge of injuries, Art Briles felt confident other players would step up. He was right as Devin Chafin picked up 161 yards rushing and a touchdown, while Terence Williams rushed for 97 yards and two scores and three touchdowns, and Lynx Hawthorne added 63 yards and a score.
All four of those players took snaps out of the Wildcat, while Johnson hit seven of 12 passes for 82 yards and also rushed for 31 yards. Jefferson, Chafin and Hawthorne each completed a pass.
The Bears set a Russell Athletic Bowl record with 756 total offensive yards.
“We wanted to run the ball and pound it and see if they could stop us,” said Jefferson, who was named the game’s MVP. “I probably ran every one of those plays 200 times in practice. This was by far the best performance of my life.”
It was Baylor’s first bowl win since a 49-26 victory over UCLA in the 2012 Holiday Bowl. The Bears were coming a 52-42 loss to Central Florida in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl and a 42-41 loss to Michigan State in last season’s Cotton Bowl.
The win also gave the Bears a 10-3 record, marking the third straight year they’ve reached double digit wins following two straight 11-2 seasons.
“I was hoping we’d go out like this,” Baylor senior offensive tackle Spencer Drango said. “I love this for the team and everybody involved. I’m glad the seniors could end our careers on a high note and go out with a bowl victory.”
The Tar Heels (11-3) scored first when Marquise Williams found tight end Brandon Fritts behind linebacker Taylor Young for a 9-yard touchdown with 8:37 left in the first quarter.
But the Bears answered with a 13-play, 75-yard drive that set the tone for their aggressive style of play. Facing fourth-and-2 at Baylor’s 46, Jefferson hit Ishmael Zamora with a short pass that he turned into a 24-yard gain.
It was the first pass completion of Jefferson’s career and Hawthorne finished off the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7 with 4:25 left in the first quarter.
On Baylor’s next drive, Jefferson exploded for 41 yards and Hawthorne broke loose for 37 to the 3. Chafin blew up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown to push the Bears to a 14-7 lead with 15 seconds left in the first quarter.
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora was surprised how much the Bears lined up in the Wildcat.
“I didn’t think they’d run for 645 yards,” Fedora said. “We thought they’d throw the ball more than they did. Our guys weren’t where they needed to be and we missed tackles in the open field. But they did a good job blocking up front. They basically ran it down our throats.”
Baylor’s defense stepped up when Aiavion Edwards sacked Williams for a 4-yard loss after North Carolina drove to Baylor’s 11. The Tar Heels had to settle for Nick Weiler’s 32-yard field goal to cut Baylor’s lead to 14-10 with 12:28 left in the second quarter.
Once again the Bears responded by driving 75 yards on eight plays. Jefferson blasted for 28 yards and then finished it off with an 11-yard touchdown run to give the Bears a 21-10 lead.
With safety Orion Stewart’s interception, the Bears got the ball back at their own 33. Jefferson got the drive rolling with a 13-yard run and Terence Williams ripped off 17 more. Jefferson took a handoff from Johnson and broke away for a 27-yard touchdown to push Baylor’s lead to 28-10 with 2:16 left in the first half.
The Tar Heels scored their first touchdown since the opening drive when Marquise Williams ended a 75-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run. Baylor missed a chance to extend its lead when Chris Callahan failed to hit a 37-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter.
North Carolina kept applying the heat as Marquise Williams opened the third quarter by scoring on a 1-yard run. The Tar Heels’ defense came up big when Dominiquie Green intercepted Johnson’s pass at the goal line.
But Taylor Young sacked Williams at the 7 and a North Carolina punt gave the Bears possession at their own 39. Baylor moved 61 yards for a touchdown with Terence Williams bulling across for a 3-yard touchdown.
Baylor got a major break when Edwards forced T.J. Logan to fumble as he was trying to cross the goal and Stewart recovered for a touchback.
Jefferson delivered his most electric play of the game when he busted loose for an 80-yard touchdown to push Baylor’s lead to 42-24 with 2:04 left in the third quarter.
“That was a 14-point swing,” Fedora said. “We were going into score and then they took it 80 yards.”
After Marquise Williams hit Bug Howard with a 27-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter, Baylor answered with a 13-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Terence Williams’ 1-yard run to push the lead to 49-31 with 10:24 left in the game.
“This is big time to win a bowl,” Stewart said. “The last two years we couldn’t pull it off. This is big for our program and Coach Briles and Baylor Nation.”