The Baylor Bears are down to third-string quarterback Chris Johnson for Tuesday’s Russell Athletic Bowl against the North Carolina Tar Heels. But that’s not all. Four offensive starters are out, including 1,000-yard rusher Shock Linwood and Biletnikoff-winning wide receiver Corey Coleman.
That didn’t stop North Carolina coach Larry Fedora from taking a slight jab at ACC rival and the No. 1-ranked Clemson Tigers, who narrowly beat the Tar Heels in the conference championship game, as he complimented the banged-up Bears.
"It will be the biggest test we’ve had,” Fedora told reporters, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald. “I mean Clemson was really good, but [Baylor coach] Art [Briles] and what they do offensively will really test you. So our guys understand that challenge. They know they’ve got great speed on the outside, kids that can take you deep at any time. The team that plays the best defense will win.”
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Despite missing their top playmakers, Baylor’s depth is stout with running back Johnny Jefferson, Devin Chafin and Terence Williams, and receivers KD Cannon, Jay Lee, Chris Platt and Ishmael Zamora.
The biggest question is whether Johnson, who engineered an impressive win at Oklahoma State after second-string quarterback Jarrett Stidham was injured, can be accurate enough to score enough points to outlast North Carolina’s explosive offense.
Johnson’s experience since the Oklahoma State win is slim. He was ineffective playing in a constant downpour during an overtime loss at TCU and he was knocked out early with a concussion in the loss to Texas in the regular-season finale.
“To have three quarterbacks go down and still have the kind of year that they’ve had has been tremendous,” Fedora said. “So there’s no doubt in my mind they’re going to put 11 guys out there that can play football. They’ve done a great job of recruiting. They’ve got a team that it looks like they’ve just been next-manned up and they haven’t blinked.”