By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
ARLINGTON, Texas - Baylor's Nick Florence isn't exactly an invisible man but he has been forgotten. When the No. 1 quarterback on your team is a Heisman Trophy candidate, when the coaching staff wants to save this season of eligibility for the future, you don't get a lot of attention.
Florence, a junior, has practiced as the Bears' third-team quarterback. As a freshman in 2009, he replaced an injured Robert Griffin III and started seven games. In a victory over Missouri, he passed for what was then a school-record 427 yards. But he figured the next time he'd play in a game would be in the 2012 season.
"When you're number's called, you've got to be ready," he said Saturday night. "Every game this season, I've been ready to play. But it certainly looked like I wasn't going to get on the field this season."
Florence was not the reason No. 21 Baylor (8-3, 5-3) pulled away in the second half for a wild and crazy 66-42 victory over Texas Tech at Cowboys Stadium. The Bears had a running game - fueled by Terrance Ganaway's 42 carries and 247 yards - and a defense that made stops and forced turnovers at opportune times. So Florence was a reason.
Griffin suffered an apparent concussion late in the first half. He came out for one play, then returned to rush for a touchdown. Griffin believed he was capable of playing but team doctors ruled him out. The coaches hid his helmet.
To start the third quarter, Baylor was clinging to a 31-28 lead. Texas Tech, battling for bowl eligibility, had played a scrappy first half. With Griffin on the sidelines holding a towel instead of on the field with a football, the Red Raiders had momentum. Quarterback Seth Doege was having an Oklahoma flash back and had completed 18 of his final 20 passes to close the half.
"I credit the offensive line, the receivers, the running backs, the defense," said Florence, who was 9-of-12 for 151 yards. "There was no dropping of heads when Griff went out."
Florence sparked a 21-point spurt to start the third quarter when he hit Kendall Wright with a 46-yard touchdown pass on Baylor's second possession. On the Bears' next possession, Florence found Terrance Williams, who out-fought Texas Tech's Cornelius Douglas, for a 40-yard touchdown pass.
"Nick does have experience, he does a great job in practice and he showed it out there on the field," Griffin said. "It was tough not being able to go back out there, it was a three-point game. It's the doctors' call and safety is most important. The guys told me they had my back and they came through for me."
Texas Tech (5-7, 2-7) finished with its first losing record since 1992. The Red Raiders lost their last five games after a 41-38 upset last month at Oklahoma.
"It pretty much went tonight like it's gone for us all year," said Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, whose team has allowed 256 points during the losing streak. "We haven't been able to stop anybody on defense and it puts way too much pressure on your offense. We made a game of it for about three and a half quarters."
The game took 3:44 to play. There was 1,061 yards in total offense and the teams combined for 20 penalties for 229 yards. Griffin was injured on a scramble when he slid inside the Texas Tech 10 but was targeted by Douglas, whose shoulder caught Griffin in the helmet. It was one of several flags in the first half.
Baylor committed two personal fouls on Texas Tech's first touchdown drive then had a personal foul to help start and an unsportsmanlike penalty after the Red Raiders' third touchdown drive. In addition to the penalty assessed against Douglas, Tech was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty earlier in that drive. There were two delay of game penalties - on each defensive unit. If there had been a partridge in a pear tree, it might have been flagged for ... something.
Baylor's defense, which has been a work in progress all season, appears to be finding itself. The Bears forced three of their four turnovers in the second half. The biggest was Joe Williams' 90-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Bears a 59-42 lead.
"The defense is developing its identity," linebacker Elliott Coffey said. "What are we? We've got to force turnovers. If we get the offense the ball, they're gonna score. We're getting better and better. We still make mistakes. But when we do, we say 'Clear it.' We cleared it, focused it and made plays."
In one half, Griffin was 7-of-11 for 106 yards passing and gained 62 yards rushing on 14 carries while scoring two touchdowns. After last week's outstanding game against Oklahoma, RG3 was considered one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. He wasn't concerned that his statistics might not earn attention.
"I don't play for awards," he said. "It doesn't matter. We won the football game."
Griffin, who displayed no ill effects from his injury during post-game interviews, vowed that he would be ready to play against Texas in Baylor's season finale next Saturday. The Bears, who have won more Big 12 games than ever before, are poised to finish out the season in style. They have defeated Missouri, rallied to win on the road at Kansas, upset Oklahoma and whipped their Big 12 nemesis Texas Tech.
"We came here to win the game and it's going to be a really happy bus ride back to Waco," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "These past four weeks have been pretty magical for us. Tonight was just a resilient, determined effort. I'm thankful to be associated with these players."