When word came out late Sunday afternoon that UCLA had accepted a bid to the Holiday Bowl against the Baylor Bears, a quiet fear hit me. In a critical bowl game, with a 10 win season and recruiting momentum on the line, how will UCLA stop Baylor’s prolific offense?
Last year, behind Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III, Baylor averaged 45.3 points per game, which ranked 4th in the country. This year, without all the hoopla and without RGIII, the Bears offense continues to dominate.
Through 12 games, Baylor averages 44.1 points per game, which ranks 5th in the country. In Baylor’s seven wins, they averaged 48.7 points per game and in their five losses they averaged 37.8 points per game. For comparison purposes, UCLA’s offense averages 35.1 points per game, albeit in a conference that plays a bit more defense than the Big 12.
So how are the Bears doing it?
Nick Florence is the answer.
Florence, a 6-1 senior, is putting up astronomical numbers that are making fans in Waco say, “Griffin who?” Well, maybe not that good, but comparable. In Griffin’s Heisman winning 2011 season, he threw for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns. Florence has thrown for 4,121 yards and 31 touchdowns. Griffin also rushed for 699 yards and 10 touchdowns. Florence has rushed for 531 yards and nine touchdowns. He may not be RGIII, but he’s damn good.
Florence most certainly is not alone on offense, either. Senior receiver Terrance Williams is on par with Marqise Lee statistically and has a legitimate argument as one of the best receivers in the entire nation. Williams has 1,764 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns on the season. He is big, 6-2 205 pounds, and fast. UCLA will need to mix up coverage on the All-America senior and pressure Florence consistently or Williams could eclipse the 2,000 yard mark on the season.
Tevin Reese is also a major contributor to the Bears offense, as he is closing in on 1,000 yards receiving on the season with eight touchdowns. The receiving corps is rounded out by Lanear Sampson, Levi Norwood, and Antwan Goodley.
You may suspect an offense that has put up the passing numbers of Baylor’s would be one dimensional, but the Bears boast a solid run game, as well. Oregon transfer, Lache Seastrunk, leads the way with 874 yards rushing on 7.6 yards per carry. Glasco Martin and Jarred Salubi combine for over 1,200 yards on the ground and 15 touchdowns to go along with Seastrunk.
Baylor is also strong along the offensive line. Seniors Ivory Wade and Cameron Kaufhold are the leaders of a unit that has set nearly every school-record over any two year period in Baylor history.
Baylor’s offense is a nightmare match up for most teams, including UCLA. The Bruins will likely struggle, like most have, stopping the lethal passing attack of the Bears, but the real key will be to stop the run. The only area where Baylor’s offense has remotely struggled is with turnovers. Florence has thrown 13 interceptions on the season and if UCLA can stop the run and force Baylor into third and long situations, they have a shot to create turnovers. If the Bruins force 2+ turnovers, they have a chance at holding Baylor under 40(no small task), and winning their 10th game of the season.