Make no mistake, Art Briles is a really good coach.
The difference in the Holiday Bowl, in which UCLA was embarrassed 49-26 in nearby San Diego, was that Baylor fixed its problems in the time leading up to the bowl, and the Bruins never saw it coming.
Baylor had 13 sacks all season, and had a rushing defense that was ranked 89th in FBS. The Bears worked on their issues going into the bowl and had a great plan. Mixing up blitz packages against UCLA redshirt freshman Brett Hundley and taking advantage of weak points in UCLA's banged up offensive line, Baylor flustered Hundley the entire game. The Bears had five sacks in the first half, more than it had in any full game this season. UCLA's Johnathan Franklin was one of the best running backs in the nation in the regular season. Baylor held him to 34 yards on 14 carries.
The defensive transformation was shocking - Baylor was ranked second-to-last in yards allowed during the regular season - but that was a product of a great coaching job. For UCLA, not so much. The Bruins were overmatched from the opening kickoff, falling behind 35-7 in the first half. They couldn't stop Baylor's offense and had no counter-punch to the Bears' defense. Jim Mora's first season at UCLA isn't ruined because of one bad game, but this wasn't his finest hour.
Baylor got better as the season went on and finished strong, but loses a lot to graduation. Receiver Terrance Williams will be one of the first wideouts taken in the NFL Draft. Quarterback Nick Florence will graduate after a tremendous year. Four defensive starters will too. But running back Lache Seastrunk and his Heisman hopes will be back (and he didn't do anything to stop the hype with another electric performance in which he got 138 yards on only 16 carries) and the offense should be strong again.
As long as Briles is at Baylor, the Bears will be a team worth keeping an eye on.
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