On the day leading up to the Alamo Bowl, the Baylor football team went to the stadium to walk on the turf and get a feel for the surroundings.
Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin looked up at the Alamodome scoreboard and saw a strange sight.
“The scoreboard said: 72-72,” Griffin said. “We’re thinking, ‘No way.’ ”
After the Bears’ wild, wacky 67-56 win over Washington, Griffin thought that scoreboard must have been some kind of omen.
“Pretty close,” Griffin said.
Thursday night’s offensive explosion left the 65,256 fans, every player and coach on both squads, and a national television audience completely exhausted.
There had never been such a crazy, unpredictable game in bowl history.
Baylor’s 67 points were the most in Football Bowl Subdivision bowl history, breaking Nebraska’s 66 points against Northwestern in the 2000 Alamo Bowl. The Bears’ school-record 777 offensive yards were the most ever in a bowl game, breaking the 718 yards that Arizona State rolled up against Missouri in the 1972 Fiesta Bowl.
The combined 1,397 yards by Baylor and Washington shattered the previous bowl record of 1,211 yards by Arizona State and Rutgers in the 2005 Insight Bowl.
The Bears and Huskies combined for 123 points, the most ever in regulation in bowl history. Marshall outgunned East Carolina, 64-61, for a combined 125 points in double overtime in the 2001 GMAC Bowl.
In more than 30 years of coaching, Baylor’s Art Briles had never experienced anything like it.
“It really was crazy,” Briles said. “It was just the ebb and flow of the game. You get in games like that and you just keep fighting. Washington had a lot of ammunition coming in, and we did a great job of surrounding ourselves and taking care of our fort, so to speak.”
The Bears had a great deal on the line since they won their 10th game to match the 1980 Southwest Conference championship team for the most wins in school history.
But it took a phenomenal second-half offensive performance and some key defensive stops late in the game to beat a Washington squad that was essentially playing a road game since there were so many Baylor fans packing the stands.
Bears mount comeback
After opening up a 21-7 first-quarter lead, the Bears suddenly lost their momentum. The Huskies outscored the Bears, 28-3, in the second quarter behind an offense led by mobile quarterback Keith Price who finished with 438 yards passing and four touchdowns. The Bears also had few answers for Chris Polk, who piled up 147 yards rushing.
“Price stepped out and played extremely well with a lot of confidence,” Briles said. “He threw the ball well and had some good scrambles. He’s a good football player, and in the games that they got in trouble this year he was injured. He got healthy and got it right.”
When Price hit Jermaine Kearse with an 80-yard touchdown pass at the start of the third quarter, the Huskies opened up a 42-24 lead. With Washington’s pass rush delivering great pressure against Griffin, Baylor’s chances of a comeback looked grim.
But Briles made a key strategical move by emphasizing the running game more in the second half. After rushing for 33 yards on nine carries in the first half, Terrance Ganaway exploded for 167 yards and five touchdowns on just 12 carries in the second half.
Jarred Salubi and Tevin Reese combined for 149 yards rushing on just six carries in the second half. The Bears finished the night with 482 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, including 331 yards in the second half.
“I’ve got a bad personality trait in that I don’t have a lot of patience,” Briles said. “We’d like to score every snap, so sometimes you can’t do that. You’ve got to slow down, work a little bit, and grind it out. We felt we needed to run the football. Even when they came out and scored on the opening drive, we stuck with what we needed to do at halftime, and it paid off for us.”
The Bears quickly got back into the game as Salubi finished off an 80-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown run before Ganaway blew up the middle for a school-record 89-yard scoring run to cut Washington’s lead to 42-39.
After the Huskies responded with a touchdown, Ganaway came back with a pair of one-yard scoring runs to give the Bears a 53-49 lead with 58 seconds left in the third quarter.
Reese’s big run
The second touchdown was set up by an electric 78-yard run by Reese down the left sideline before he was knocked out of bounds by Desmond Trufant at the 2-yard line. Reese finished with 101 yards rushing on just two carries.
“It’s probably been since middle school,” said Reese when asked about his last 100-yard game. “I didn’t expect to have 100 yards rushing, but I’ll take it any time to help my team win.”
The Huskies regained the lead when Price ran for an eight-yard touchdown with 9:40 left in the game. But with Baylor running so effectively, Griffin had the perfect setup to go deep as he hit Kendall Wright with a 48-yard pass to Washington’s 20.
That big play set up Ganaway’s fourth touchdown run of the second half, a four-yard dash up the middle to give the Bears a 60-56 lead with 8:15 remaining in the game.
“In the second half, I was more worried about carrying out my fake than throwing a pass,” Griffin said. “Ganaway and Salubi were doing a great job. But when they called on me and Kendall to make a play, it was a big gain down the left sideline.”
Burned for 620 yards by Washington’s dynamic offense, Baylor’s defense came up with a decisive stand in the final minutes. With the Huskies facing fourth-and-eight at Baylor’s 39, end Gary Mason hurried Price into a bad throw with 3:20 remaining.
5th TD for Ganaway
Ganaway sealed Baylor’s win with a 43-yard blast up the middle for his fifth touchdown to open up a 67-56 lead with 2:28 remaining. Trailing by 18 points, the Bears erupted for 43 in the second half to pull off their biggest comeback since climbing back from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit in a 31-30 overtime win over Kansas on Nov. 12.
“To come back the way we did just speaks to the character of this team,” Griffin said. “This isn’t our first rodeo, like the old saying goes, and we’ve done it time and time again.”
Ganaway was named the game’s offensive MVP after his 200-yard rushing performance, while linebacker Elliot Coffey was the defensive MVP after collecting 15 tackles.
“I’ve been saying all season that the defense works as a machine,” Coffey said. “If one part of it is messed up, it trickles downhill and hurts all of us. So we had to make sure the later it got, especially in clutch time on the fourth down when we needed to make a play, we understood that we had to do it.”
While Ganaway was the star, Griffin still had a tremendous game by hitting 24 of 33 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a 24-yard first-quarter touchdown in which he broke at least five tackles and carried Washington linebacker Cort Dennison into the end zone.
“I felt we had him sacked by three different guys, and he escapes and scores a touchdown,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “That’s a good football team. We knew coming in it wasn’t just about Robert Griffin, it was the entire offensive football team. They weren’t the No. 2 offense in the country just for a fluke.”
Baylor’s offensive line had a great day, but it was especially meaningful for senior guard Robert T. Griffin, whose mother died Christmas Eve after battling cancer. He wore a towel with ‘Mom’ written on it during the game.
“Today, I played as hard as I could,” Griffin said. “I never gave up. And I did it for my mom. She will always be with me, and I will always keep God first.”
The more famous Robert Griffin hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll return to Baylor for his senior season or head to the NFL. He’s indicated that he won’t make his decision until close to the Jan. 15 deadline for declaring for the draft.
For now, he wants to enjoy being around his teammates and reflecting on a remarkable 10-3 season that culminated with the Bears’ first bowl win in 19 years.
“I want Baylor Nation to enjoy this,” Griffin said. “It’s not about me. Obviously, I have a decision to make with the deadline coming up. But we’ll enjoy tomorrow, the next day, and the next day, and the next day.”