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Baylor 49 UNC 38

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It was Football 101 with a healthy dose of UNC being on the wrong side of a few plays that fueled a Baylor run fest on the way to a 49-38 win in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

This about sums it up:

The conventional wisdom heading into this game was Baylor's injuries to two quarterbacks, All-American wide receiver and leading rusher would work in UNC's favor. In actuality it worked against the Tar Heels. Without a decent passing quarterback, Art Briles decided to simply run the ball all game long using mostly direct snaps. Five different Bear players got rushing attempts with Johnny Jefferson doing most of the damage followed by Devin Chafin. UNC's defensive line had not done much against the run all season and with DT Nazair Jones out, could do very little against Baylor's massive offensive line. Through the first quarter Baylor had almost 200 yards rushing and never slowed down.

UNC did manage a stop on Baylor's first drive and upon receiving the ball drove downfield for a 7-0 lead. Marquise Williams found Brandon Fritts wide open in the end zone to open scoring. Baylor's next possession was the first of many yard churning drives and the Bears promptly tied the game. After getting a stop, Baylor rolled down field again for a 14-7 lead and it became clear this would be like playing Georgia Tech only much, much worse. UNC managed to cut the lead to four with a Nick Weiler field goal to make it 14-10.

Early in the second quarter, UNC found a glimmer of hope by seemingly getting another stop against the Baylor offense. The Bears opted to punt and UNC went after the block. Romar Morris caught enough of the punter to induce a running into the kicker penalty to keep the drive alive. The penalty was demoralizing as Baylor continued to gash the Tar Heel defense on the way to a 21-10 lead. A Williams interception on a route Ryan Switzer stopped running put Baylor back on the field and that familiar depressing inevitability that stems from knowing every run will get positive yards set in. The Bears needed 10 plays to go 67 yards for a 28-10 lead.

Even down 18 points, UNC was facing a scenario similar to what the Tar Heels faced in Atlanta versus Georgia Tech. If UNC could close the half with a touchdown then get one to open the second half, the Tar Heels would be be within four points. And that's what UNC was able to do with a little help from Baylor penalties. Williams four yard run with 35 seconds left cut the Bear lead to 11. Baylor still managed to get a scoring chance but a 37 yard field goal went wide left as the half expired.

UNC completed the second half of the comeback plan with a touchdown to open the half. Initially it looked like a big strike to Mack Hollins. The junior WR caught a short pass but ducked a tackle and sprinted to the end zone. Hollins stepped out and the ball came back to the 41. UNC eventually did make it to the end zone with Williams capping it off a steady drive with a one yard run to cut the lead to 28-24.

Baylor continued to get anything it wanted on offense except when the Bears decided to get cute. Despite the almost certainty that the Bears could get into the end zone in four shots from the UNC 8 yard line on 1st and goal, Baylor tried a pass and UNC safety Dominique Green picked off Chris Johnson to provide the Tar Heels the opportunity it needed. UNC got a nine yard run from Hood but on the second down play, a quick out to Austin Proehl, Mack Hollins was flagged for targeting and ejected. Instead of a first down at its own 20, UNC faced 2nd and 10 at its own 9. Two plays later, Williams was sacked and the Tar Heels were forced to punt.

Rinse and repeat for the Baylor offense as the lead was pushed to 35-24. Despite all the issues UNC was down just 11 and had plenty of success moving the football. Elijah Hood got loose for a 67 yard run to the Baylor 8 yard line. T.J. Logan ran to the two and on the next carry fumbled the ball into the end zone before breaking the plane. Baylor recovered and on the next play Johnny Jefferson broke free for an 80 yard touchdown run to effectively end the game in gut punch fashion.

Baylor's offense would continue to roll adding another touchdown after UNC drew back to within 11. The Tar Heels finally managed a four down stop and followed that up with a quick touchdown drive to make it 49-38 with 2:20 left. Any hope UNC had left hinged on recovering an onside kick. UNC executed it well but a heads up play by the Baylor hands team knocked the ball out of bounds before the Tar Heels could recover.

UNC gave up a bowl record 645 yards on the ground. That is also a record for a UNC opponent. While there will be plenty of talk about the things like effort, coaching, preparation, etc. this was Football 101. UNC's defensive line got whipped at the point of attack and the steady rotation of quick, athletic rushers was simply too much for UNC to handle. Baylor's injuries actually worked in the Bears' favor forcing them to go right at UNC's weaker rush defense and taking the superior pass defense out of play.  Throw in the decision to try and block the punt, the Hollins penalty and the Logan fumble UNC ran out of an already thin margin of error.

UNC ends the season 11-3 overall. The rebuilt defense which was good enough for most of the season ran into a pair of offenses in Clemson and Baylor the Tar Heels simply couldn't handle. The 11-1 regular season with much of the key personnel set to return next season points to a bright future. The losses to Clemson and Baylor shows how much further the program needs to go, especially in terms of talent.  At any rate, the Tar Heels are moving in the right direction even amid a disappointing end to the season.