After several weeks in the transition phase, the wheels are fully functional for the ground-and-pound part of Baylor’s offense, which leads the nation in yards (584.5 per game) and scoring (50 avg.).
For the first time this season, No. 7 Baylor watched the two running backs at the top of its depth chart roll for 100 yards rushing in the same contest during last week’s 49-28 victory over Oklahoma State.
They should continue to find room to roam Saturday when the Bears (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) meet Texas Tech (4-7, 2-6), a team that ranks last in the Big 12 in rushing defense (259.9 yards per game) and is No. 123 among 125 FBS teams in scoring defense (40.6 avg.).
Having a healthy 1-2 punch of Shock Linwood (977 yards, 13 TDs) and Devin Chafin (368 yards, eight TDs) bodes well for the Bears’ push to be part of the College Football Playoff’s inaugural four-team bracket. The next step comes Saturday against Tech at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (2:30 p.m., WFAA/Ch. 8).
“We’re to the point it’s like the NFL playoffs or like the high school playoffs. You win, you advance,” Baylor coach Art Briles said during Monday’s news conference. “A lot of times, to be able to win and advance, you have to be able to control the ball and the clock in the later stages of the game. Those guys, along with our offensive line, allow us to do that.”
It hasn’t been that way all season. Chafin, who missed three games because of a high ankle sprain, returned to action Nov. 1 and cranked out a season-high 112 yards in a 60-14 rout of Kansas.
But the bigger payoff came against OSU, when the two backs split 42 carries (21 each) and combined for 219 yards and four touchdowns in a driving rain. For Briles, the performance offered more than a statistical left.
“They run with an attitude and run with a purpose,” Briles said. “We feed off that mentality.”
Both backs have shown increased comfort operating behind a reshuffled offensive line that lost two starters to season-ending injuries in October (RT Troy Baker, RG Desmine Hilliard).
Heading into the Tech game, both backs expressed satisfaction with the holes being created by a unit that now includes first-year starters Pat Colbert (RT) and Jarell Broxton (RG).
“When me and Shock start doing our thing and doing good, it certainly opens up a lot of different areas,” Chafin said. “It means a lot for the team as a whole. For us to hit triple digits in the same game, we need to make sure we keep it up.”
In Baylor’s spread offense, a 100-yard rushing performance is far from a given. Linwood has topped the 100-yard mark three times this season, in victories over Texas, No. 5 TCU and OSU. Chafin has done it twice (Kansas, OSU).
The Bears’ only other 100-yard efforts came against Northwestern (La.) State, when Johnny Jefferson and Silas Nacita turned the trick in a stats-grab setting against an FCS opponent.
Typically, the Baylor passing game sets the tone for the Bears. But in times of trouble, quarterback Bryce Petty often looks to Linwood (5-foot-9, 200 pounds) to provide a spark.
“He brings the energy,” Petty said. “He might be small, but he doesn’t play like it. He plays like he’s 6-8 and 300 pounds. Every time we’re struggling a little bit offensively, he somehow brings a run in there and sparks us and we get rolling off of him.”
In Chafin (6-0, 225), Petty said the Bears have a larger, more physical agent of change to call upon. Having both backs available for the November playoff push will spread opposing defenses even thinner. To Linwood, the offensive diversity means more than that.
“It just shows that we’re a championship team,” Linwood said. “We have a lot of weapons and we have to use all of them to our advantage.”
In breaking down their respective running styles, Linwood described Chafin as a “powerful and physical” player capable of surprising defenders with his speed. Chafin considers Linwood the more polished runner.
“Shock is definitely a lot more patient runner than me,” Chafin said. “He has really great balance. I think he sees more, and he’s more elusive.
“When I get the ball, I’m more downhill. I just want to run as fast as I can and, hopefully, try to punish the tackler. That’s our biggest difference.”
Briles, for one, is happy to have both options available as Baylor seeks a Big 12 title and a playoff berth in its last two regular-season games.
It is noteworthy that the Bears’ lone loss, 41-27 to West Virginia, came while Chafin was limited due to his ankle ailment. Now, the 1-2 punch is in place for the stretch run.
“I’m really proud of both of them because of what they bring to us from a mentality standpoint,” Briles said. “They’re really good football players that have a burning desire to win and help us succeed.”
With a playoff berth swinging in the balance between now and Dec. 7, Briles wants as many of those guys in his backfield as possible.