UNC can't match Baylor's offense in 49-38 Russell Bowl loss

KYLE HIGHTOWER, Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — 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 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 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 opening the possession of the game, but scored on each of its next four drives of the first half to take 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."

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