Nick Florence didn’t have much time to make the decision.
Robert Griffin III, who would collect his Heisman Trophy a couple weeks later, had been knocked out of Baylor’s game against Texas Tech last season at Cowboys Stadium with a concussion. At halftime, Baylor coach Art Briles approached Florence — the backup who had sat on the sidelines all year intending to redshirt — and asked him if he would be willing to burn a full year of eligibility for 30 minutes of football.
“Honestly, the discussion didn’t last long,” Florence said this week. “I knew when Griff came out of the training room and I saw his eyes, I knew it wasn’t good. So at that point I didn’t know what the deal would be, but for me I was going to do whatever Coach needed me to do.”
All Florence did in his first action of the season was complete 9 of 12 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns — he also ran for another score — while leading the Bears to a 66-42 victory.
“It was a fun half to play,” Florence said, “and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Florence picked up this season right where he left off last year in Arlington. Following in the shadow of a Heisman winner is no easy task, but the senior from Garland has handled the role with aplomb while shredding opposing defenses.
In fact, Florence may be garnering some Heisman attention of his own if not for Baylor’s 5-5 record. He leads the nation in total offense at about 384 yards per game. Though he doesn’t possess the same athleticism Griffin does — few do — Florence has kept defenses off balance by rushing for about 41 yards per game.
“(Florence) might be playing the best of anybody in the league right now,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “I know we have a guy (Kansas State’s Collin Klein) that’s a Heisman Trophy (candidate) and probably still is. But (Florence) throws it well on the money and he runs the ball. That’s what gives him the opportunity to be a dual-threat of running and throwing on the run.”
Tech safety D.J. Johnson said Tech’s secondary has to be aware of the fact that Florence won’t hesitate to throw deep in any situation, noting the confidence the strong-armed signal-caller displayed against the Red Raiders last season.
“I remember being in the middle of the field and I’d see a ball to the sideline and our corner is in perfect coverage,” Johnson said, “and he’s still letting it go. So that guy has confidence in his receivers.”
Of course, it’s easy to have confidence in a guy like Terrance Williams. Baylor’s senior wide receiver may be the nation’s top deep threat. With two games still left to play — three if Baylor makes a bowl game — the senior has already amassed 82 catches for 1,518 yards, averaging a gaudy 18.5 yards per grab.
That could be troublesome for a Tech defense that has been on the wrong end of field days for speedy wide receivers two of the last three weeks. Texas’ Mike Davis caught four passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns on Nov. 3, and Isaiah Anderson of Oklahoma State last week hauled in four passes for 174 yards and three scores.
“It was players not making plays,” Johnson said. “In the Big 12 you have to make plays. You can’t go out and play against good, great teams and not make plays and expect to win.”
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