Orlando, Fla. — For most of this season North Carolina was able to distinguish itself as the more dominant offensive team on the football field.
For the second straight game, though, the Tar Heels ran into a squad that was a step faster.
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.
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. The loss thwarted the Tar Heels’ hopes of becoming the first team in school history to post 12 wins in a season.
“We didn’t get it done tonight, obviously,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “They were the better team out on the field tonight.”
Marquise Williams passed for 243 yards and three scores, and rushed for two more. Elijah Hood added 118 yards rushing.
The Tar Heels ended their season with back-to-back losses, following an eight-point loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game.
The win was Baylor’s first bowl victory since 2012, snapping a string of two consecutive bowl losses.
“It just says we’re tough. Baylor’s whole identity is ‘physicality travels.’ That’s all we preach. That’s all we teach,” Jefferson said. “So being physical today, we won the game.”
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.
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 back up 35-24 following a 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 were going in to score and they turned around on the next play, took it back 80 yards on the next play. It’s a 14-point swing on one play, basically,” Fedora said. “We didn’t take care of the ball going into the end zone.”
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 a 28-10 lead in the first half.
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 bowl 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 in his record Russell Athletic Bowl performance.
Despite the loss, Williams said he is proud of how the team finished the season.
“I’m always going to be positive. I’m always going to smile,” Marquise Williams said. “I have an opportunity to play with one of the best teams … I’m still happy that I have the opportunity to get to a bowl game … I’m going to keep smiling. That’s just who I am.”
No. 22 LSU 56, Texas Tech 27: At Houston, Leonard Fournette scored five touchdowns and ran for 212 yards as LSU used a big third quarter to pull away. Texas Tech (7-6) cut the lead to 1 early in the third quarter before the Tigers (9-3) scored 21 straight points, with two touchdowns by Fournette, to make it 42-20 entering the fourth.
Fournette had two rushing touchdowns of 2 yards, ran for TDs of 43 and 4 yards and took a screen pass 44 yards for another score.
Patrick Mahomes threw for 370 yards and four touchdowns for Texas Tech, but was under heavy pressure all night and was sacked six times and scrambled away from probably 10 more. Jakeem Grant set a Texas Tech bowl record with three receiving touchdowns.
Nevada 28, Colorado State 23: At Tucson, Arizona, James Butler scored on a 4-yard run with 1:06 left and Nevada benefited from a late gaffe by Colorado State. Colorado State (7-6) trailed most of the game before taking the lead on Wyatt Bryan’s 38-yard field goal with just under 4 minutes left.
The Wolf Pack (7-6) responded quickly, marching 72 yards in eight plays to set up Butler’s tackle-breaking touchdown run.
Nick Stevens orchestrated a quick-hitting drive in the final minute with no timeouts, but receiver Jordon Vaden was unable to get out of bounds at Nevada’s 12-yard line and time ran out on the Rams.
Stevens ran for 189 yards and Elijah Mitchell scored on a 96-yard kickoff return in the bowl battle between Mountain West Conference teams.
Stevens threw for 310 yards and a touchdown.
Armed Forced Bowl
California 55, Air Force 36: At Fort Worth, Texas, Jared Goff threw for 467 yards and six touchdowns and California won in the postseason for the first time in seven years. Goff had three of his scoring tosses in a span of five plays in the second quarter as the Bears (8-5) broke a 14-14 tie and cruised in a rematch of the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl, also won by Cal (42-36).
Receiver Kenny Lawler had three touchdowns for Cal, which last made the postseason in a 21-10 loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl in 2011. The Bears’ last bowl win was 24-17 over Miami in the 2008 Emerald Bowl near their Bay Area campus.
Weakened by the targeting ejection of secondary anchor Weston Steelhammer on Air Force’s third defensive play, the Falcons (8-6) lost for the fourth time in five Armed Forces appearances since 2007.