ORLANDO, Fla. — When it was at full strength this season, Baylor had the most productive offense in college football.
Even without several of their key pieces, the Bears proved they could be just as impressive.
Johnny Jefferson rushed for three touchdowns and a record 299 yards, and No. 18 Baylor ran past No. 10 North Carolina 49-38 in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Tuesday night.
Despite missing two quarterbacks, an award-winning receiver, and a 1,000-yard running back, the Bears' No. 1-ranked scoring offense stayed creative, pounding out 645 yards rushing and 756 total yards — both records for this bowl.
"It just says we're tough. Baylor's whole identity is 'physicality travels.' That's all we preach. That's all we teach," said Jefferson, whose rushing performance was a Russell Athletic Bowl record. "So being physical today, we won the game."
Devin Chafin added 161 yards and a touchdown, and Terence Williams rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns for the Bears (10-3).
North Carolina (11-3) tried to match Baylor's scoring output but had a key fumble in the third quarter that stifled its comeback efforts.
Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams passed for 243 yards and three scores, and rushed for two more. Elijah Hood added 118 yards rushing.
The win was Baylor's first bowl victory since 2012, snapping a string of two consecutive bowl losses.
The biggest question leading up to Tuesday's matchup was how Baylor's offense would adapt with quarterbacks Seth Russell (neck injury) and Jarrett Stidham (broken ankle), Biletnikoff Award winner Corey Coleman (hernia surgery), and running back Shock Linwood (broken foot) all sidelined.
The answer became apparent early on.
Though sophomore Chris Johnson started the day at quarterback, five different players — Johnson, his backup Lynx Hawthorne, and running backs Jefferson, Chafin, and Terence Williams — all took snaps from center for the Bears within the first two series. They continued to use the quintet in multiple Wildcat formations throughout the game.
Coach Art Briles did not address the media after the game, but his son and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said using the Wildcat sets were always part of the game plan.
"We felt good about it. Our players were prepared," Kendal Briles said. "From a whole, the adversity we went through this year, the guys stuck together as only a team could do."
North Carolina kept pace as best it could and scored on its opening possession of the second half to cut what had been an 18-point first-half deficit to 28-24.
Baylor needed just eight plays to go up 35-24 following 3-yard touchdown run by Williams.
The Tar Heels started their next drive with a 67-yard run by Hood to get back into the red zone.
But two plays later T.J. Logan fumbled at the goal line after being hit by Aiavion Edwards and it was scooped up by Baylor's Orion Stewart for a touchback.
The Bears took advantage, and on their first play after the changeover scored on an 80-yard scamper by Jefferson that put them in front 42-24.
"We didn't get it done tonight, obviously," North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. "They were the better team out on the field tonight."
Fedora said he thought the Bears would throw the ball more with Johnson at quarterback or would have the level of success they did rushing the ball.
"They had a heck of a plan," Fedora said.
Baylor turned it over on downs on the opening possession of the game, but scored on each of its next four drives of the first half to take 28-10 lead.
The Bears' play calling was varied and creative throughout, using a deluge of direct-snaps, jet sweeps and an occasional pass to keep the Tar Heels' secondary honest. The result was a rash of chunk plays, including 10 Bears running plays of more than 10 yards in the first half alone.
For the half, Baylor finished with 358 rushing yards, breaking the previous record of 325 rushing yards set by Illinois against Virginia in 1999. Jefferson was the most active, rushing for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Linebacker Edwards said getting to 10 wins after closing the regular season with two tough losses is a positive sign for the Bears.
"It means a lot. The seniors have done a great job keeping the whole team together," he said. "We've been through a lot, and sending those guys out on the right note and just getting a win is big for us and big for the program."
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org
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