Bowl games can often be completely separate animals from the regular season, and no one will prove that phenomenon more true this winter than Baylor. A team that arrived in Phoenix on a 6-game losing streak played like the Big 12 title contender many expected it to be, beating Boise State 31-12 in the Cactus Bowl.
Baylor playing like Baylor again started with getting the ball in the hands of the type of player that dominated games during the Bears’ salad days — wide receiver KD Cannon. The junior caught 14 passes for 226 yards and two crucial first half touchdowns — a 30-yarder to open the scoring in the first quarter and a 68-yard connection to stretch the lead to 14-3 with 12:14 to play in the half.
In addition to not covering Cannon, Boise State was undone by Brett Rypien‘s inability to hold on to the football inside scoring territory. The Broncos’ quarterback tossed first half two interceptions inside Baylor’s 5-yard line and lost a fumble at the Bears’ 16, ending any hopes of a comeback early in the fourth quarter. Rypien’s second pick came inside the end zone and led to an, ahem, controversial 99-yard drive for the Bears’ final score of the half.
Baylor was initially stopped at its own 21 but received new life when Drew Galitz drew a running into the kicker flag, a 5-yard penalty on a 4th-and-4, despite ESPN replays showing clearly no Boise State player actually touched Galitz. The flag stood, though, and JaMychal Hasty ended the 15-play march with a 5-yard scoring dash with 4:19 to play in the half.
Boise State added a second Tyler Rausa field goal, a 26-yard chip shot, to close the first half and opened the second half with a 13-play drive that ended on a turnover on downs when Bryan Harsin eschewed a third field goal try in favor of a fourth-and-goal pass that was broken up by defensive back Ryan Reid. Baylor answered with an un-Baylor-like 21-play drive culminating in a 34-yard Chris Callahan field goal at the 3:19 mark of the third quarter.
Baylor (7-6) closed the door for good after Rypien’s fumble with a 12-play, 71-yard drive that closed with a Zach Smith 14-yard scoring strike to Ishmael Zamora with 10:03 remaining. Smith played the best game of his young career, completing 28-of-39 passes for 375 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Terence Williams, receiving a full work load after Shock Linwood chose to stay home, toted 25 carries for 103 yards.
Rypien (31-of-50 for an even 300 yards) added a cosmetic score when he hit Cedrick Wilson for a 28-yard score with 1:20 to play. His 2-point pass was, fittingly, intercepted.
Playing in the final game of his Boise State career, Jeremy McNichols posted a quiet night of 19 carries for 46 yards with five grabs for 24 more yards.
The loss for Boise State (10-3) was a rare one in a metropolitan area that hosted many of the orange and blue’s greatest moments over the past decade. The Broncos are 3-0 in Fiesta Bowls played at University of Phoenix Stadium in nearby Glendale, while Tuesday night’s loss came at Phoenix’s Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.