Playing without its top two quarterbacks, leading rusher and All-American wide receiver, Baylor knew it had to be creative to keep up with North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Using what basically amounted to a modern day version of the single wing, Baylor racked up a ridiculous 645 rushing yards (a record for any bowl game) in a 49-38 win. The Bears used a variety of ways to get the ball in the hands of its most dangerous players, mainly via direct snaps to running backs Johnny Jefferson, Devin Chafin and Terence Williams, all of whom reached the end zone at least once.
Jefferson led the way with a whopping 299 yards on 23 carries. He scored three touchdowns on the night, including an 80-yard scamper late in the third quarter to essentially put the game out of reach. Chafin added 156 yards and a score on a team-high 27 carries while Williams gained 97 yards on 16 carries and twice reached the end zone.
Chris Johnson got his third straight start at quarterback, but Baylor made it clear it would not rely on his arm to win this game. Johnson took a few deep shots early in the game, but the Bears’ offensive identity was established from the get go.
Baylor did not score on its first possession; North Carolina did. From there, Baylor reached the end zone on its next four possessions – rushing touchdowns by Lynx Hawthorne, Chafin and two from Jefferson – while UNC did its best to keep pace.
A touchdown run by North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams cut Baylor’s lead to 28-17 going into halftime. Williams, who threw for 243 yards, rushed for 81 and had a combined five touchdowns, then scored again from a yard out to open up the scoring in the second half.
Baylor picked right back up where it left off on its next drive and moved the ball quickly into the red zone. But when it looked like the Bears would extend their lead, the Tar Heels defense finally made a play.
On first and goal from the eight, Baylor dialed up a jump pass for Johnson. The 235-pound quarterback faked a handoff on a read option and looked like he’d run up the middle, but passed to tight end Jordan Feuerbacher in the end zone at the last second. Fortunately for UNC, safety Dominique Green read the play perfectly and intercepted the pass.
Down 28-24, the Tar Heels took over on offense after the interception and had a golden opportunity to take a lead, but instead went three-and-out.
UNC would never be that close again.
Baylor’s next drive resulted in another touchdown, this time a three-yard run by Williams. UNC running back Elijah Hood opened the Heels’ next drive with a 67-yard run down to the eight, but T.J. Logan fumbled at the goal line two plays later, giving the ball back to Baylor.
On the very next play, Jefferson exploded down the right sideline for an 80-yard score, giving Baylor a 42-24 late third quarter lead that was ultimately too big for North Carolina to overcome.
The Tar Heels would chip away with two Williams touchdown passes late in the game, but it was too little, too late as the Bears cruised to a win.
The win is the tenth on the season for Baylor (10-3). The team had higher aspirations than that, especially after an 8-0 start, but injuries to quarterbacks Seth Russell and Jarrett Stidham severely hampered its College Football Playoff dreams.
For North Carolina, it’s a disappointing way to end one of the best seasons in program history. The Tar Heels took home the ACC’s Coastal division, but dropped the league’s title game to No. 1 Clemson. UNC still had a chance to set a single-season program record for wins, but fell short against the Bears, finishing 11-3.
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For more North Carolina news, visit TarHeelIllustrated.com.
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