No Seth Russell. No Jarrett Stidham. No Corey Coleman. No Shock Linwood. No Pat Colbert. No problem.
Baylor's injury-riddled 2015 season culminated when the Bears blew past 10th-ranked North Carolina en route to a 49-38 victory at the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. The victory gave Baylor its third consecutive 10-win season and third bowl victory in the past five seasons.
It was Baylor's fourth bowl game in Florida and the program's first in the Sunshine State since the 1960 Gator Bowl. Many students, alumni and fans took advantage of the warm Florida weather and celebrated the holidays with the Bears.
Baylor Student Life organized a four-day, three-night trip that included a visit to Disney World. In all, 250 students took advantage of the opportunity to see the Bears in a bowl game, enduring a 20-hour bus ride each way. Many festivities were held for Baylor fans in Orlando leading up to the game, including a pep rally the afternoon before the game at Orlando’s I-Drive 360.
The Russell Athletic Bowl berth also provided an opportunity for Baylor to share more about Baylor. In recent years, the University has advertised heavily (billboards, print, radio and television ads) in markets where Baylor plays a bowl. This year, fans in Central Florida learned more about Baylor. The advertising could be a tipping point that gets Greater Orlando high school students who desire a top-notch education in a Christian environment to consider Baylor.
More than 2,100 Baylor alumni live in Florida, including prominent Baylor graduates Ed Crenshaw, BBA '73, CEO of Publix Super Markets, and Stephanie Young, BBA '86, senior vice president of Disney Parks and Resorts. Three members of Baylor's fourth-ranked women's basketball team hail from Florida--McDonald's High School All-Americans senior Alexis Prince, BA '15, of Orlando's Edgewater High School, senior Niya Johnson, BSEd '15, of Gainesville's P.K. Yonge Development Research School and freshman Beatrice Mompremier, who played at Miami Senior High School.
On the field, the Bears did not disappoint. Johnny Jefferson established a school and Russell Athletic Bowl record with 299 yards rushing and three touchdowns to earn Most Valuable Player honors. Baylor tallied 645 yards rushing as a team, the most ever by an FBS team in a bowl game; the performance came one season after the Bears established the bowl record for passing yards.
Jefferson's most intriguing carry was his 23rd and final rush of the game. The 2-yard gain iced Baylor’s victory and gave him exactly 1,000 yards rushing on the season.
Chris Johnson started at quarterback for the Bears, returning from a concussion sustained in the regular-season finale against Texas. He was one of five players to take a snap from center as the Bears utilized a wildcat offense to pound North Carolina on the ground.
Four Baylor players eclipsed 60 yards rushing on the night and each scored at least once. Devin Chafin rushed 27 times for 161 yards and a touchdown, while Terrance Williams had 97 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Lynx Hawthorne added 63 yards and a score on seven totes. In all, Baylor rushed the ball on 84 of its 94 offensive plays.
The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter before Chafin's 2-yard touchdown run put the Bears ahead with 15 seconds remaining. Baylor never relinquished the lead and led by as many as 18 points on three occasions.
North Carolina's Marquise Williams scored on a 1-yard run on the Tar Heels' first drive of the second half, cutting Baylor's lead to 28-24. The Heels never again got within two scores after Terrance Williams pushed the Bears' lead to 35-24 with a 3-yard touchdown run with 3:07 remaining in the third quarter.
Aiavion Edwards led the Baylor defense with 17 tackles, a career high; he also forced a fumble, broke up one pass and had a sack. Orion Stewart had seven tackles with an interception and a fumble recovery.