Jerry Hill does an outstanding job of giving us great insight into the Bears and the Sugar Bowl showdown in New Orleans. Jerry is in his 12th year with Baylor athletics and serves as Director of Sports Journalism. He covers every sport, publishes a quarterly magazine and for 25 years penned articles on Baylor, the Cowboys, Mavericks, Rangers and Colonial, and Byron Nelson Golf Classics. He does a great job. On another note, the Lady Dogs basketball team was in Baylor the week after the Tech game, and I can firsthand say that the athletic department and fan base is absolutely first class, kind and welcoming – rivaling Notre Dame.
Take us through the highlights of the Bears season thus far.
“Seven of the 13 games have been one-possession games, including three that went to overtime.”
“After letting a 20-point lead slip away, Baylor defeated Iowa State, 23-21, on a John Mayers 38-yard field goal into a stiff wind with 21 seconds left.”
“The next week, the defense had six sacks and two takeaways in a 31-12 road win at Kansas State. Backed up to his own 1-yard line after a sack, Charlie Brewer engineered an 11-play, 89-yard for a game-tying 19-yard field goal by Mayers on the last play of regulation. Baylor won it in double overtime, 33-30, on a 5-yard TD run by JaMycal Hasty.”
“Overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit, Baylor scored 21 unanswered points in the 4th quarter for a 45-27 win at Oklahoma State. Hasty rushed for 146 yards and Brewer bounced back from a 3-interception game against Tech to throw for 312 yards.”
“Sacked seven times, Brewer led a 13-play, 62-yard drive to set up a game-winning 36-yard field goal in a 17-14 win over West Virginia.”
“Overcoming a 9-0 halftime deficit, Baylor tied it at 9-9 with 36 seconds left in regulation on a career-long 51-yard field goal by Mayers. Denzel Mims scored two OT touchdowns in a 29-23 triple-overtime win at TCU.”
“Baylor led by as many as 25 and took a 31-10 halftime lead at home. But, Oklahoma scored 24 unanswered points in the second half and then got a clinching takeaway with 29 seconds left in a 34-31 Sooners’ win at McLane Stadium.”
“Brewer accounted for 296 yards and two touchdowns before leaving with an injury early in the fourth quarter of a 24-10 win over Texas that booked a spot in the Big 12 Championship game.”
“Twice overcoming double-digit deficits, freshman quarterbacks Gerry Bohanon and Jacob Zeno each threw a touchdown and led the Bears to two scores apiece before falling to Oklahoma, 30-23, in overtime in the Big 12 Championship game.”
Talk about the incredible job that Matt Rhule has done in Waco.
“Few people in Waco had ever heard of Matt Rhule when he was hired on Dec. 6, 2016 after a four-year run at Temple that included back-to-back 10-win seasons and an AAC championship.”
“Because of departures stemming from the Art Briles firing and a sexual assault scandal, the Bears were short on scholarship players and had only one recruiting commitment for the 2017 class. After a 1-11 season that started with losses to Liberty and UTSA, Baylor finished 7-6 the next year and ended it with a 45-38 win over Vanderbilt. Even with a six-win improvement that tied for the best among Power 5 teams, the expectations were not extremely high going into this year. To think that they went from one win to 11 in two years is mind-boggling (first time ever by a Power 5 team).”
“Baylor was maybe a play away from a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Bears have built up depth across the board, but especially in the trenches. This challenges the turnaround that Grant Teaff had almost 50 years ago when he took the Bears to a Southwest Conference championship and their first Cotton Bowl in his third season, a year after finishing last.”
How much excitement is there for the Baylor fan base to play Georgia in New Orleans?
“I’m not sure if even a CFP appearance would have created as much excitement as Baylor’s first trip to the Sugar Bowl in 63 years. Not only is it a New Year’s Six bowl game, but it’s also relatively short travel by car or plane. Baylor has one of its largest fan and alumni bases in Houston, which is even closer to New Orleans. After seeing the crowds dwindle the last few years, the last two home games this season against Oklahoma and Texas attracted crowds of more than 50,000 fans. There should be a big student draw as well after they bought more than 4,000 tickets for the Big 12 Championship game. This is Baylor’s ninth bowl game in the last 10 years, but this is a big deal to go to a New Year’s Six game and play a Georgia team that was in the national championship game just a couple years ago.”
What is your take on Georgia?
“I like the matchup of two of the better defenses in the country and offenses that have struggled at times, but certainly, have plenty of weapons. Not so much this year, but Baylor’s defense has had issues in the past against dual-threat quarterbacks. Jake Fromm being more of a pure drop-back passer gives the defense a chance to pad a sack total that’s already a school-record 43 sacks. Georgia’s defense is undoubtedly the best the Bears have seen this year, especially if the Bulldogs don’t have their top players sitting out like they did in last year’s loss to Texas. It seems clear that Georgia probably has a talent edge on Baylor, the only question is Georgia’s motivation. You can look at it and say both teams are in the same boat, coming off conference championship game losses, but this is new territory for Baylor.”
What would a Sugar Bowl victory over the Bulldogs mean for Baylor?
“No. 1, it would be Baylor’s 12th win, setting a program record for a team that’s been playing football since 1899. This is the Bears’ ninth bowl in 10 years, starting with RG3’s run in 2010 and 2011. But, they haven’t won what I would consider a major bowl since beating second-ranked Tennessee in the 1957 Sugar Bowl. It would also be Baylor’s second-consecutive bowl win over an SEC team after last year’s Texas Bowl win over Vanderbilt. This would keep the positive momentum going that has seen women’s basketball win a national championship, soccer make back-to-back Elite Eight appearances in 2017 and ’18 and Baylor go to postseason in 17 of 19 sports a year ago.”
What does Baylor need to do to win?
“I think the big thing will be Baylor’s ability to run the ball with the running backs (JaMycal Hasty, John Lovett, and Trestan Ebner) so that they can take some of the pressure off QB Charlie Brewer. Turnovers will also be a key stat to watch. After getting just 10 takeaways in 13 games last season, Baylor ranks second nationally with 30 this year. The Bears scored 10 points off two turnovers to keep the Big 12 Championship game close. The defense also needs to keep the pressure on quarterback Jake Fromm.”