Undermanned Baylor runs for bowl record against North Carolina

Johnny Jefferson rushed for 299 of Baylor's bowl-record 645 rushing yards against North Carolina. AP Photo/John Raoux

Art Briles is a wizard in long sleeves. There's no other explanation for what he did Tuesday night.

The Baylor coach evidently doesn't need his top two quarterbacks (Seth Russell and Jarrett Stidham). Or his top running back (Shock Linwood). Or the nation's best wide receiver (Corey Coleman). Or his starting right tackle (Pat Colbert). Briles can work with just about any personnel group on offense. A depleted depth chart that would put many offensive coaches in the fetal position became a new challenge for Briles leading up to the Russell Athletic Bowl against No. 10 North Carolina. He delivered one of the more creative game plans in recent memory, as No. 17 Baylor, the nation's No. 19 pass offense, transformed into a rushing machine.

The Bears steamrolled North Carolina 49-38, ending a season that began with playoff promise on a bright, if somewhat bizarre, note. They set a new bowl rushing record with 645 yards, shattering Nebraska's mark of 524 yards set in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl against Florida. Briles masterfully mixed personnel, using five different players at "quarterback," most of whom play other positions.

It didn't matter, as every Bears ball carrier -- Johnny Jefferson, Devin Chafin, Terence Williams and Lynx Hawthorne -- found green space behind a punishing line against the Heels, who sorely missed defensive tackle Nazair Jones. The only disappointment: no carries for 400-pound LaQuan McGowan.

Let's take a closer look at the game.

What the win means for Baylor: Justifiably criticized for a soft nonleague schedule, Baylor recorded its first significant victory outside the Big 12 since beating UCLA in the 2012 Holiday Bowl. Briles showed why he's one of the most innovative and effective offensive minds in college football, as the Bears accounted for 756 yards of total offense. Baylor displayed its depth and adaptability, which some questioned after losses to TCU and Texas that ended the regular season. We'll never know how far this Bears team could have gone if Russell and others had remained healthy. The ingredients for a potential playoff run were there. But the future is bright as Russell will be back in 2016, along with so many of the others who contributed Tuesday.

What the loss means for North Carolina: The season still represents a step forward for Larry Fedora and his team, but the bowl loss was a significant buzzkill. A defense revived by first-year coordinator Gene Chizik fell apart. While the Tar Heels couldn't have expected what it saw from Baylor, it had no answers for a one-dimensional offense. Mistakes in the red zone continued to haunt the Heels, as T.J. Logan's fumble into Baylor's end zone was a backbreaker. The next step for UNC is beating marquee opponents and continuing to shore up the defense.

Player of the game: Listed in Baylor's game notes as "more of a lightning guy," Jefferson brought thunder, lightning and all other elements to the field Tuesday. He had 299 rush yards and three touchdowns on just 23 carries, and finished with exactly 1,000 yards on the season. Jefferson's 80-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, moments after North Carolina fumbled near the Baylor goal line, put a bow on a banner night for Baylor.

Stat of the game: Baylor set a Russell Athletic Bowl rushing record in the first half alone. The Bears had 358 rush yards on 39 attempts (9.2-yard average) in the first 30 minutes, breaking the bowl record of 325 yards set by Illinois against Virginia in 1999 (when the bowl was the MicronPC Bowl).