Carolina looks to win 12 games and cap their most impressive season in at least 18 years with a win against Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Baylor looked to be a top contender for a playoff spot this season until injuries on the offensive side of the ball knocked Baylor out of contention. The Bears will try to regain a bit of momentum with a win against the Heels and take some positives into next year.
Baylor is on their third quarterback of the season with sophomore Chris Johnson as their starter for the bowl game. Johnson is essentially what you would expect from a third string quarterback in the Art Briles system. Johnson is 15 of 38 (39.5%) passing this season with 220 yards (5.79 yards per attempt), three touchdowns and two interceptions. Johnson tends to complete deep passes but is not particularly good at completing them. Johnson is also not asked to pass nearly as much as other quarterbacks in Baylor's system. When Johnson does pass, he is down Baylor's superstar wide receiver Corey Coleman. Baylor instead is down to their number two receiver KD Cannon, third wide receiver Jay Lee and no other receiver who has more than 155 yards and 11 catches. Cannon and Lee have 6 and 8 touchdowns respectively and tend to catch long passes, each averaging more than 18 yards per reception.
Baylor also finds themselves without their top running back, Shock Linwood, in this game. As such the Bears are now relying on the duo of Johnny Jefferson and Devin Chafin to carry the ball on the ground. Jefferson is a pretty dynamic runner, averaging 6.2 yards per carry this season. Chafin is more of a bruiser, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. However, Chafin has more touchdowns than Jefferson with 8 compared to Jefferson's 5. Johnson is a decent threat to scramble from the pocket as he's carried the ball 25 times over three starts. However, Johnson is not particularly effective as a runner, averaging only 3.2 yards per carry.
Baylor will have to try to win this game with their defense. The Bears do not have a great defensive unit, giving up 27.5 points per game, but considering they blow out a lot of teams, that number is inflated over what it would be if they had to survive a wire to wire affair. Baylor is led by defensive lineman Andrew Billings who is a first team AP All-American in this, his junior season. Behind Billings, the Bears have held opponents to 3.6 yards per carry this year and Elijah Hood will have his work cut out for himself running against this Baylor line. Opponents make up their running issues by throwing on the Bears. Baylor allows opponents to throw for an average of 232.7 yards per game and their pass defense has been the most consistently exploitable part of their team this year. In Carolina, the Bears are also facing the number one offense in the country in terms of yards per play and the previous best offense they played was Oklahoma, who hung 44 points on the Bears en route to a 10 point Sooner victory in Waco. Baylor has their work cut out for them in the bowl game and will be hard pressed to come up with a win if their defense does not play one of their best games of the season.
Get Off to a Good Start:
Carolina needs to put Baylor in a position where the Bears have to throw the ball. Baylor's path to victory is if they can possess the ball for 35 minutes or more against the Heels. If they have to throw to catch up, then Carolina should be in good shape since they're facing a third string quarterback in Johnson. If Carolina gets out to a hot start then this game could be over by the third quarter.
Big Day From Lawrence and Stewart:
With Coleman out, the Bears are down to two meaningful receivers against the Heels. Des Lawrence and MJ Stewart will be on Lee and Cannon for the entire game and if they play up to their normally high level, then the Bears will not have any where to consistently go with the football. If Stewart and Lawrence can cover up in one on one coverage then the Heels can commit extra resources to the run game which should set up Carolina nicely for win number 12.
Marquise Williams Gets the Send-Off He's Earned:
Marquise Williams has been the best statistical quarterback in the Heels' history and deserves to win his final game. Williams has played two obscene games in Charlotte but otherwise been good to excellent for most of the season. The Heels' quarterback deserves to end his time in Chapel Hill with a win and a good performance in his last day in a UNC uniform. Williams will face a quality defensive line in Baylor but not one as good as the Clemson unit from the ACC title game. Williams should look to get the Heels on the board early and if he's on track, then the Heels should get a quality win in Orlando.