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Baylor vs. North Carolina -- GAME DAY -- Links, Notes, TV Schedule, Thoughts

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It's the last Game Day of the 2015 season. Can't hold anything back now.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
vs.
18/19/17 BAYLOR (9-3, 6-3) vs. 10/11/10 North Carolina (11-2, 8-0)
Dec. 29, 2015 | 4:30 p.m. CT
Orlando, Fla. | Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium (60,219)

TV: ESPN
Watch | Skycam | Listen | Gametracker Gametracker | Game Notes Notes

OPPONENT: North Carolina Tar Heels
ODB GAME HUB:
2015 Russell Athletic Bowl: Baylor vs. UNC
MEET THE PRESS:
Presser Quotes | Player Updates
FIRST LOOK:
Baylor vs. North Carolina
SBNATION BOWL PREVIEW:
Russell Athletic Bowl
ADVANCED STATS PREVIEW:
Baylor O vs. UNC D
ADVANCED STATS PREVIEW:
Baylor D vs. UNC O
DEPTH CHARTS:
Injury Situation / Depth Charts
PREVIEW PODCAST:
Russell Athletic Bowl
PREDICT THE SCORE: Baylor vs. UNC
SB NATION BLOG: Tar Heel Blog, at right
SPREAD: UNC -3 (Open: Baylor –3.5)
TV COVERAGE: ESPN, 4:30 p.m. CST

THE BIG NEWS:

Injuries, we've got lots of them.  In case you have been living under a rock for the last three weeks since the Texas game, here's the players Baylor will definitely be out in today's bowl game against North Carolina:

QB Jarrett Stidham -- OUT -- Was unable to practice in time for the bowl following his foot injury against Oklahoma State and has been held out.  Should be ready to go for the spring.

RB Shock Linwood -- OUT -- Had surgery on a Lisfranc injury in his foot two weeks ago.  Should be ready to go for the spring.

WR Corey Coleman -- OUT -- Had surgery last week on a sports hernia.  He has declared for the NFL Draft, and his Baylor career is over.

RT Pat Colbert -- OUT -- Apparently suffered a torn labrum at some undisclosed point.  He's a senior, so his Baylor career is over.

In place of the above, Chris Johnson will start his third game at QB, Johnny Jefferson and Devin Chafin will split carries at RB with Terence Williams (I'm guessing), one of Ishmael Zamora and/or Chris Platt will have to step up at WR alongside K.D. Cannon and Jay Lee, and Blake Muir will move from LG to RT to be replaced by either Blake Blackmar or Desmine Hilliard at guard.  That's a lot to digest.

Advanced Stats:

Peter did a wonderful job breaking down the advanced stats for this game into two separate posts, and I highly recommend that you read them both if you get a chance.

Take a gander while you've got a chance over at Peter's Advanced Stats post this week. I'll give you the highlights below.  Here's the highlights:

Category

Baylor (9-3)

UNC (10-2)

EDGE

Overall F/+ Rk 12 (35.0%)
21 (29.9%)
EVEN
Overall FEI Rk 15 (.159)
9 (.179)
EVEN
Overall S&P+ Rk 14 (15.8)
30 (10.7)
Baylor
Field Position Advantage 82
20
UNC

I put these stats in here because I use them in every Game Day / Preview post, but I would caution you against relying too heavily on them.  As Bill C detailed yesterday, where Baylor was once one of the best and most consistent teams in the country at full strength, our last two games have been absolutely horrid for several reasons, notably injuries.  We're a shell of what we once were.  That's why UNC has gone from a 3-point underdog to a 2.5/3-point favorite in a couple of weeks.

Today's hope is that the last three weeks off, during which Briles says we have retooled our offense to Johnson's talents, given Lynx Hawthorne substantially more run behind him in practice, and tried as best we can to adjust to our new milieu, have allowed us to regain some of what we've lost.  Until we actually play the game, however, we just won't know.

Thoughts on the Game:

As I mentioned on Twitter last night, my biggest fear for this game is that Baylor starts slowly and gets behind to an explosive, yet deliberate, UNC offense, thereby putting pressure on our own depleted unit that it simply cannot bear.  We've seen the defense struggle against several teams this season on the first possessions of games, giving up fluky TDs or blown plays that either eliminated our own lead or put us in a hole.  If that happens here and we don't respond immediately, things could get really ugly, really fast.  As much confidence as I have in our ability to run the ball against UNC's front (and that's a lot of confidence), I don't know that our offense is built right now to score a lot of points in only a little time.

Keys to the Game:

  • Start Fast: For the reasons I mentioned above.  Get ready to see a few trick plays if we need them to break things open early.  The Brileses have had three weeks to prepare for whatever UNC might spring on us, and that should scare the Heels a bit.
  • Protect Johnson: Considering what we've seen from the offense without Johnson (albeit in just one game), protecting him against UNC's front becomes even more important than it already was.  If we can keep up with or surpass UNC's offensive output with him, chances become extremely slim that we can do it without.  The good news is that, as Peter detailed in his posts, UNC's DL actually isn't that fantastic at generating a sustained pass rush or creating havoc.
  • Cut the Turnovers: The dirty little (not so) secret of Baylor's last four games of the season is that the bottom basically fell out in terms of turnovers.  In our first 8 games, Baylor had 10 total turnovers (4 of which came against Lamar).  In our last 4, we had 15.  It's impossible for a short-handed team to win against an opponent of UNC's caliber if we shoot ourselves in the foot repeatedly through turnovers.

I feel strongly that Baylor will be able to run the ball effectively against UNC's defense (in particular, I expect Johnny Jefferson to have another big day), but whether Baylor wins this game will rely on two things: how well our defense can stop UNC's Marquise Williams and limit their big plays, and how successful we can be in generating our own to counter inevitable defensive breakdowns.  I have a feeling that we may know how this game will go by the end of the first quarter: if Baylor can weather UNC's initial onslaught and either stay within reach or actually hold a lead, the team should settle in, make the necessary adjustments, and have a chance to win.  If not ...

All that being said, I simply don't know that Baylor, in its current depleted state, has enough to pull off the W against a really good UNC team that gave Clemson about all they wanted in their last game.  That leads me to a very, very rare prediction: a Baylor loss.

My Prediction: UNC 41, Baylor 35

I genuinely hope that I'm wrong.

LINKS LINKS LINKS LINKS LINKS LINKS:

Russell Athletic Bowl preview, picks: UNC vs. Baylor - College Football - SI.com
Russell Athletic Bowl preview: Two teams, Baylor and North Carolina, that contended for College Football Playoff berths and feature high-powered offenses face off in a matchup that should produce plenty of points.

Viewer's Guide, expert bowl picks: Baylor-UNC, LSU-Texas Tech lead day - CBSSports.com
Bowl season continues this week, as we close in on New Year's Eve and the College Football Playoff.

Banged-up Bears face major challenge against UNC in Russell Athletic Bowl - WacoTrib.com: Baylor Bears Football
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Russell Athletic Bowl hardly seems like a fair fight with Baylor missing its top two quarterbacks, Biletnikoff Award winning receiver and best running back.

How the Bears match up vs. North Carolina - WacoTrib.com: Baylor Bears Football
Baylor offense vs. North Carolina defense

Baylor looks to ground prolific UNC dual-threat QB in mold of Boykin, Mayfield - WacoTrib.com: Baylor Bears Football
ORLANDO, Fla. — Playing against Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and TCU’s Trevone Boykin, Baylor has faced some of the best quarterbacks in the country in the Big 12.

Baylor's Spencer Drango glad to help make Art Briles' vision a reality - Big 12 Blog- ESPN
Offensive tackle Spencer Drango was, according to ESPN's recruiting ratings, Baylor's only four-star signee in 2011.

Three reasons to watch the Russell Athletic Bowl: Baylor vs. North Carolina - Big 12 Blog- ESPN
Both programs have the chance to make much-needed statements: The Bears are out to snap a bowl skid, and the Heels aim for an unprecedented 12th win.

TWEETS TWEETS TWEETS TWEETS TWEETS TWEETS:

See everyone at 4 PM CST for the Game Thread!