December 29, 2010

Game day has arrived

It's here.

The day Baylor Nation has waited 16 years for has arrived.

"It's Dec. 29, and we're all in Houston, Texas," head coach Art Briles said. "It's a great city, and we're getting to play in a great bowl game and a great atmosphere. That's why you work out, that's why you prepare and that's why you play. And that's why these guys came to college -- for these type of atmospheres."

The atmosphere for game day will be the nearly 70,000-seat Reliant Stadium.

The Bears' (7-5) home for the past few days of practice has been the Houston Texans' practice bubble.

Though he admits it would be nice to have practiced on grass, like they will see Wednesday at 5 p.m., Briles appreciates the convenience the bubble offers. The indoor facility also gives the Bears a feel reminiscent of the Allison Indoor Practice Facility they often use at home in Waco.

Keeping a familiar tone to practices, from the facilities to the plays run, has been a priority for Briles.

"You just don't want to get so smart that you're dumb," he said when asked about using the extra time to work on new plays or schemes. "You can just over think things a whole lot, and if you'll just keep it simple, keep your guys playing fast and active and with confidence, then you've got a better chance to execute. And that's the thing we're trying to do."

The extra time has allowed Briles and his staff to familiarize themselves more with Illinois than they would with an opponent during a normal weekly schedule.

"I know they're dang good," he said. "I mean, they dropped 500 yards rushing on Northwestern going the same direction."

Stopping the rush, powered by the Big Ten's top running back Mikel Leshoure, will be the Bear's biggest focus defensively.

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has more than 800 yards on the ground to compliment Leshoure's 1,513 on the season.

"They're just a big, strong, physical team that really does a great job protecting the football," Briles said. "They're here because of that reason. Anybody that's playing today, they got good people and they got good schemes and they got good momentum."

Looking at his defense, the third-year Baylor coach sees a revitalized group. Amongst those back from injury is senior linebacker Chris Francis.

"First defensive snap," Briles said when asked if Francis would see time. "Yes, he'll start. He actually got cleared the 18th of December, so he's set and ready to go."

Fellow backer Eliot Coffey will join Francis on the list of those back from injuries.

Amidst the preparation, the Bears have taken a chance to enjoy the bowl game experience, including a never-more-appropriate bowling outing at Lucky Strike Bowling Alley in Houston.

Briles and company have enjoyed the bowl experience thus far, but they don't know just yet if it has been everything they hoped for.

"Well, I'll let you know on Wednesday about 10 p.m., because everything I want it to be is a big win for Baylor University," Briles said. "So far, everything has just been first class. The Texas Bowl people are just unbelievable. They really make you feel at home. Everything has been right so far. We just have to finish it up Wednesday at 5."

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