By Larry Little
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - For decades, Baylor has been known as Quarter-Miler U. Clyde Hart built the collegiate track world's elite stable of stallions, producing iconic Olympic gold medalists Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner.
Baylor's track program also has long dominated 4x400-meter relays, an event that requires the smooth transition of a baton from one runner to another at precisely the right moment.
In Baylor's 67-56 track-meet victory over Washington in Thursday night's Valero Alamo Bowl, the Bears proved the baton passing has made its way to the football program.
As departing senior tailback Terrance Ganaway earned MVP honors with 200 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, junior tailback Jared Salubi galloped his way to 101 yards and two scores on just five carries. It was Salubi's second career 100-yard game and his best single-game output since a 131-yard night against Northwestern State as a redshirt freshman in 2009.
A product of Waco High School, Salubi has bided his time over the past three seasons behind Jay Finley and Ganaway just as the latter did with the former the two seasons prior until a breakout 2011 campaign.
Finley established Baylor's single-season rushing record in 2010 with 1,218 yards. That mark didn't last long as Ganaway obliterated it this season with 1,547 yards and a school-record 21 touchdowns.
Somewhat overlooked in Ganaway's blistering performance against Washington was the fact that it was Salubi who first burst through the Huskies' rush defense. Ganaway averaged just 4.0 yards on his first 11 carries with no touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Salubi produced 17 yards on the back end of a double-option run and a 36-yard touchdown burst up the middle in the first quarter. And it was Salubi's seven-yard scoring scamper that capped the Bears' 10-play scoring drive on their first possession of the second half.
"I didn't expect to have a hundred-yard game; anything to help the team win," said Salubi, who had a 98-yard touchdown run against LaMarque High School in the 2006 Texas Class 4A state title game - also played at the Alamodome. "I had a few teammates from high school hit me up before the game ... brought back memories of the state game. There's something about San Antonio and the Alamodome. I guess I do my magic here."
Ganaway took over from there, producing 156 yards on 10 carries after Salubi's second touchdown and found the end zone five times in the game's final 24 minutes. He finished his Baylor career with 2,042 yards and 29 touchdowns, starting only 13 games. Including his freshman year at the University of Houston, where he played with Baylor coach Art Briles, Ganaway tallied 2,592 yards and 35 scores in his collegiate career.
Regardless of who was toting the ball against Washington, the message was simple: Baylor's running back stable is as deep and dangerous as Hart's throng of thoroughbreds.
"Obviously ending the season like this, having a good game, I definitely think it puts an answer in a coach's mind of what somebody can do in a tense situation or in a big-game setting," Salubi said after his Alamo Bowl performance. "But I believe even though I did good, things can change. So I've always got to keep my eyes open and keep hustling."
Perhaps Salubi hears the thundering hooves of his fellow Baylor running backs behind him. Glasco Martin IV, a product of Round Rock's Stony Point High School, and Lache Seastrunk, who transferred to Baylor last summer from Oregon, will give the Bears a running back corps with the potential to be scary good next season.
Martin, who will be a junior in 2012, was used sparingly the past two seasons after redshirting in 2009. He saw action in only three games with nine carries in 2010 and tallied 268 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries this season. He did not see action in the Alamo Bowl. If Martin bulks up his 6-1, 205-pound frame during the off-season, he could be a Ganaway-like ox.
Seastrunk was one of the nation's most highly prized recruits out of Temple High School a few years back and flew the Ducks' coop after taking a redshirt with Oregon's BCS Championship game participant squad last season. Salubi (5-9, 210) and Seastrunk (5-9, 190) may be smaller in stature but both possess blinding speed and Barry Sanders-like elusiveness, something the former showed on a couple of his runs against Washington.
Ganaway spoke to the bright future of Baylor's running game.
"We're tired of hearing, 'Baylor's losing a guy. It's coach Briles' recruiting strategy to bring in guys that can play. We're not gonna miss a beat without me. So expect big things next year."
Another back in queue with potential is B.J. Allen, who sat out this season as a redshirt. He earned second-team all-state honors at Tatum High School as a senior when he rushed for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns.
And Briles is sure to bring in another wave of backs in February's signing class.
Attention to Baylor's potent passing attack with Robert Griffin III slinging passes to one of the nation's deepest and fastest collection of receivers has sometimes overshadowed the Bears' running game since Briles arrival. Baylor has averaged at least 190 yards per game and ranked in the national top 25 in three of his four seasons with the Bears. The lone exception was 2009 when the ground game struggled due to injuries, including a never-full-strength Finley.
The running game peaked this year as Baylor rushed for 3,063 yards and a school-record 37 touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per rush and 235.6 yards per game.
"The offensive line played great all year," Ganaway said. "We had some guys play really big around me and help me be an integral part of this program. It's a mentality. (The linemen) go out there and say, 'Beat the guy in front of me and win a game.' That's what they did - they went out there and fought, fought, fought, fought."
Ganaway also proved his mettle against some of the nation's top rush defenses this season. He had 120 yards against TCU (27th nationally in rush defense), 186 yards against Missouri (43rd) and 152 yards against Texas (11th nationally). In those three games, he averaged 7.8 yards on 59 carries and was stopped behind the line only once - a one-yard loss against Texas.
And like any accomplished thoroughbred, Ganaway got stronger down the stretch. After gaining 45 yards on nine carries without a touchdown at Kansas, he produced 658 yards with 11 touchdowns in the season's final four games. He scored at least two touchdowns in each game and was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week after gashing Texas Tech for 246 yards. Ganaway averaged 7.0 yards per carry in the season's final three games.
Now Salubi, Martin and Seastrunk take the baton that was passed from Finley to Ganaway at the end of last season.
Who runs the third leg of Baylor's on-going relay? Only the 2012 season will tell.