Knights hoping to provide speed bump to Bears

JOHN MARSHALL AP College Football Writer Published:

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Central Florida mostly contained Louisville's Tommy Bridgewater, faced the pass-happy offenses in Conference USA last season, dealt with the up-tempo chaos of June Jones' SMU Mustangs.

The Knights have never seen anything like what they'll face in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day.

Waiting for them in the desert is No. 6 Baylor, a team that plays like it's stuck on fast forward and this season piled up more yards than every team but one in FBS history.

"Baylor is their own kind of monster," Knights linebacker Terrance Plummer said on Monday.

Monster is a good way to describe it, at least to the teams who have tried getting in the Bears' way.

Using a balanced attacked designed by coach Art Briles, Baylor (11-1) was an unstoppable force all season, leading the nation with 53.3 points per game. The Bears scored at least 70 points four times their first six games and were held under 30 once, to Oklahoma State in their only loss of the season.

Baylor put up video-game numbers of total offense, averaging 624.5 yards per game, second all-time in FBS history to Houston (624.9) in 1989 and 51 more than the next-closest team this season.

The Bears had their biggest game against West Virginia on Oct. 5, setting Big 12 records with 864 total yards and 73 points in a blowout victory.

Perhaps the closest thing Central Florida (11-1) saw to Baylor this season was South Carolina, which averaged 170 fewer yards and nearly 20 fewer points. The Knights lost to the Gamecocks 28-25 on Sept. 28

"They have a very explosive offense," Central Florida coach George O'Leary said. "I don't think anybody is going to stop them. I think you have to slow them down and get off the field. That's the big thing when you play Baylor."

The problem is trying to figure out what to stop.

With most high-scoring, yards-amassing teams, the focal part of the offense is usually a strong passing or running game. Find a way to stop that one aspect and you'll have a pretty good shot at beating them.

Baylor is equally good at passing and running.

During the regular season, the Bears were fifth nationally with 359 yards passing and 12th with 262 yards rushing.

Bryce Petty was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country and has a large cache of explosive receivers. Preventing teams from ganging up on him is running back Lache Seastrunk, who ran for 106 yards per game.

And this is nothing new for a Briles-led team. While at Houston, he led the first team in FCS history to have a 300-yard receiver and 200-yard rusher in the same game.

"The thing is, they're such a fast-paced team, but they're a fast-paced team with a running game and you don't see that nowadays because everyone wants to pass the ball," Plummer said. "They're so well-tempoed, so well-paced and that's the challenge, trying to get lined up, trying to make plays in the open field because they're so fast in what they do. We just have to focus as a team and make sure we know our assignments."

Between Baylor's proclivity for putting up big numbers and Central Florida's rise from a smaller conference -- well, at least one not the size and stature of the Big 12 -- the Knights are decided underdogs.

Baylor is favored by 16 1-2 points, the biggest spread in any of the 35 bowl games, and some predictions have them winning by four touchdowns or more.

But the Knights aren't exactly slouches on the defensive side of the ball.

Central Florida finished 19th nationally in total defense, allowing 346 yards per game, and was one of the few teams to slow down Bridgewater during the early part of the season, when he seemingly could do no wrong.

The Knights are positionally sound, rarely miss assignments and have a defensive-minded coach in O'Leary.

"They do a great job schematically defensively," Briles said. "They don't get themselves out of position with alignment. They're productive in how they approach the game. We're just playing a well-coached football team."

Are they good enough to slow down the Bears? We'll find out on New Year's Day.