The Baylor football team is banged up. Seriously banged up.
The Bears have suffered more injuries than most this season, utilizing four different quarterbacks (including one who was more wide receiver than QB) during the regular season and face plenty of questions. The most obvious? Who is the starting quarterback?
Luckily, there’s an answer.
Baylor head coach Art Briles confirmed earlier this month that Chris Johnson would get the start under center in the Russell Athletic Bowl, squaring off against North Carolina. Briles told reporters a few weeks ago that Jarrett Stidham, who replaced original Baylor starter Seth Russell midway through the season, was not ready following his ankle injury earlier this year.
That’s opened up the door for Johnson. The sophomore battled injury himself this year, but still appeared in eight games this year, competing 39.5 percent of his pass attempts for 220 yards and three touchdowns. Briles described his latest starter saying:
We really love Chris — his attitude, his personality, the way he cares about the other members of his football team. And his skill level is really good. There’s still some unknown qualities in there that we have to filter. I think we’ve hopefully done, as a staff, a good job of allowing him to be successful and that’s the main thing. We’re trying to help him feel comfortable with what he’s doing.
It won’t be an easy game for Johnson, however, despite the extra time between the end of the regular season and Bowl time.
Baylor will be without All-American receiver Corey Coleman who underwent hernia surgery and running back Shock Linwood, who is sidelined with a broken foot. Still, there’s reason for the Bears explosive offense to feel confident. The receiving corps still includes KD Cannon, Jay Lee, Chris Platt and Ishmael Zamora, giving Johnson plenty of down-the-field options tonight.
The Bears have lost their last two bowl games, falling 52-42 to Central Florida in the Fiest Bowl and a 42-41 heartbreaker to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. The key to making sure history doesn’t repeat itself this week is to finish when it matters. That means completing drives in the red zone and and remaining efficient on offense.
It’s been musical quarterbacks for Baylor this season, but that could actually benefit the Bears tonight. If Johnson can settle into his role quickly, he might be able to re-spark this dominant offense.
Kickoff for the Russell Athletic Bowl is slated for 5:30 p.m. ET and is being broadcast on ESPN.