The Baylor Bears have struggled against a reputation as a “fluke” program who have used a “gimmicky” offense to put up video-game style numbers but falling short in the games that matter. They appeared to be ready to put that reputation behind them in 2013, winning a Big 12 title outright and making it to their first BCS bowl game. But in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, with an opportunity to prove to the world that Baylor football was for real, the Bears came up short against the Central Florida Knights and missed a huge opportunity to change the perception of the Baylor program for good.
At the end of the day, Baylor was undone by their old Achilles’ Heel: defense. In years past, the offense had to put up the ridiculous numbers they did to outscore opponents who ran up and down the field on the Bears’ defense. This season, Baylor had appeared to fix a lot of those issues. The defense, while far from one of the elite units in college football, had taken huge strides to improve and help the production of their No. 1 offense stand up. It had helped get them to 11-1 on the year and punch their ticket to the Fiesta Bowl but the Baylor D fell apart in the desert.
Baylor had no answer for the UCF offense, led by quarterback Blake Bortles. The junior signal caller, who has done work this season to shoot up many NFL Draft boards, had a solid night after overcoming a pair of early interceptions to lead the way for the Knights. He finished the game with 301 yards passing and a surprising 93 yards rushing on the night with four total touchdowns. Storm Johnson was strong in the running game, carrying the ball 20 times for 124 yards and three touchdowns while Rannell Hall caught four passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns to lead the way in the receiving corps.
As the Baylor defense was getting torn to shreds, the offense couldn’t seem to find its footing for much of the night. Bryce Petty finished the game with 356 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns through the air while running for three more but had a costly interception in the endzone that hurt Baylor’s momentum in the first half. The running game, which has been so important to Baylor’s success and fueled by a dynamic three-headed attack, had just one running back gain more than 20 yards (Lache Seastrunk: 117). Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese, considered two of the best home-run threats in the country, combined for just 63 yards on nine receptions with zero touchdowns.
It was a perfect opportunity for Baylor to put their bad reputation behind them on the biggest stage they’ve ever had. The program has taken so many steps forward in 2013 that a win in a BCS bowl game would have cemented their status as a real contender in college football at the highest level. Instead, Baylor will still have to deal with the doubters and critics because of poor performances in big situations like the one they put forth in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.