SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — With Tevin Reese back in the lineup, Baylor’s offense hopes to wreck the Fiesta Bowl scoreboard and pile up massive yardage against Central Florida.
The Bears want to ring in the new year by returning to the prolific offensive style they rolled with earlier in the season.
Baylor’s offense clearly hasn’t been as productive since Reese dislocated his right wrist Nov. 7 against Oklahoma. But the speedy wide receiver has been back at practice the past four days and is expected to contribute in the Fiesta Bowl while wearing a soft cast on his wrist.
“It’s like Christmas all over again,” Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said. “He stretches the field like no one I’ve ever seen. He adds a new dynamic to an offense that already is pretty explosive. He’s a special talent, and we’ve really missed him the last five or six weeks.”
Before Reese’s injury, the Bears averaged 63.9 points in the first seven games. In the last five games, the Bears averaged 45 points.
Facing some of the best defenses in the Big 12, the Bears averaged 29.3 points in their last three games against Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas. There’s no question Reese’s absence has been felt.
“Losing him was a bigger piece than most people realize,” Baylor running back Glasco Martin said. “He makes a big difference because he brings a speed factor to the game. Defenses have to play us more honest. They can’t double on Antwan (Goodley) or bring that extra safety up in the box because Tevin can just run right by you.”
Reese made 33 catches for 824 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging a phenomenal 25 yards per catch before his injury.
Nobody has been more affected than Goodley. Though the junior receiver leads the Bears with 67 catches for 1,319 yards and 13 touchdowns, he hasn’t been able to get deep as often since Reese’s injury.
“I haven’t been getting open as much, and it has been frustrating,” Goodley said. “Having Tevin back takes a lot of the load off me because they can’t double any more. There’s no doubt we’ve got to get back to that level and play the Baylor football that we did at the beginning of the season.”
The entire offense has been impacted since defenses haven’t had to worry as much about getting burned deep by the Baylor receivers. Defenses have been able to play closer to the line of scrimmage and make a stronger effort to shut down Baylor’s running game.
“When you lose a guy like Tevin that’s such an explosive player, it’s hard to plug somebody in,” Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery said. “It’s not just his explosiveness, but it’s also his maturity and what he brought. He’s played a lot of games, and he’s gotten a lot of reps. It’s nice to have him back and we’ll see what happens.”
With running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin healthy again following injuries, Baylor’s offense will look more like it did at midseason. The only starter that will miss the Fiesta Bowl is left tackle Spencer Drango, who went out with a back injury in the ninth game against Texas Tech.
The Bears will face a strong Central Florida defense that ranks in the top 20 nationally by allowing 346.3 yards and 19.6 points per game. Former Knights defensive coordinator Jim Fleming recently accepted the Rhode Island head coaching job, and has been replaced by former Maine defensive assistant Paul Ferraro.
However, Ferraro won’t coach the Knights in the Fiesta Bowl. Central Florida head coach George O’Leary is taking over the defense for the game, and the players said the transition has been smooth.
“Coach O’Leary has been over here all season harping on us, and that’s one reason we’ve been good,” Central Florida defensive back Brandon Alexander said. “When he’s over here, you want to impress him even more.”
While the Knights have faced some good offenses this season, they haven’t seen any that run plays at a faster tempo than Baylor.
“We’ve played some teams with speed, but no one comes close to their tempo in the way they run plays,” Central Florida defensive lineman Thomas Niles said. “It’s pretty amazing. They run a play every 13 seconds, and we’ve never seen that before. You have to line up and get ready.”
With Reese back in the lineup, the Knights are bracing for the Bears at full tilt. They know players like Reese, Goodley and Seastrunk can burn defenses, but they’re also concerned about Baylor’s overall team speed.
They can see why the Bears lead the nation with 624.5 yards and 53.3 points per game.
“I’ve never seen this type of speed before,” Alexander said. “It’s ridiculous. They’ve got a quarterback who can throw it on any spot on the field. They have very fast receivers who can make you miss. They’ve got running backs who run downhill fast, so we have to tackle very well. We’ve got to have our best game as a defense.”