WACO, Texas — Take a glance at the total offense leaders in the Bowl Subdivision and there is a Baylor quarterback at the top. Same for passing yards per game.
Without looking at names, it’d be easy to think those are leftover lists from last season, before Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy and left early for the NFL.
Nope, those are the latest statistics.
While Nick Florence has never tried to be like RG3 — “I’m not 6-3, 6-4, and I don’t run a 4.3,” the 6-foot-1 senior said — his numbers this season are very comparable to what Griffin did with the Bears.
“He’s been masterful quite honestly, and not surprisingly to us because of his personality and his demeanor and his mindset,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “We didn’t ask him to be Robert, because nobody can be. What we asked him to do was just take his drive and his talents and fit it into our system.”
Through nine games, Florence has more yards passing (3,191 to 3,093), one more rushing touchdown (six to five) and has been sacked five times less than Griffin at the same point last season. The wins just haven’t come as frequently for the Bears (4-5, 1-5 Big 12), who are still trying to get bowl eligible.
They play Saturday night at home game against second-ranked Kansas State (10-0, 7-0), the No. 1 team in the BCS standings. It is a matchup of the quarterback who replaced the Heisman Trophy winner against Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein, this year’s Heisman front-runner.
Griffin, the Washington Redskins rookie starter, said he’s proud that Florence is having his chance this season as Baylor’s quarterback.
“He’s put in a lot of hours. He was there just as long as I was, so it’s good to see that,” Griffin said. “They’ve got K-State coming up, so it’ll be interesting. I look forward to seeing him go and be successful.”
While Baylor has certainly made some changes in an offense that lost Griffin, along with the leading rusher and leading receiver from a 10-win team that sent five offensive players into the NFL draft, the basis of Briles’ system stayed intact.
“It’s little things here and there that we’ve changed and morphed,” said Florence, who averages 395 total yards per game. “It’s not drastic, there’s all these little things that make other things better now. ... We still do a lot of the same stuff, but it’s just adding different wrinkles and shades to it.”
Florence started seven games as a true freshman in 2009 after Griffin sustained a season-ending knee injury.
The original plan was for Florence to redshirt last season and have two years of eligibility left. But when Griffin had concussion-like symptoms against Texas Tech, Florence threw for 151 yards and two touchdowns after halftime as the Bears won that game.
“Just knowing him as a person and knowing where his mind is, I think that he was probably one of the few candidates that could come in and have done what he was asked to do, which is replace the most prolific player ever in the history of this school,” Briles said
Like Klein, Florence has accounted for 31 touchdowns this season. Florence has thrown 25, with at least two in every game until last week, and run for another six scores. Klein has 19 rushing TDs, including two last week at TCU, and 12 passing scores.
“He has experience, that’s what gets overlooked. He has so much experience in that system and has been through it year in and year out, he understands the system, he manages the ballgame quite well,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “He’s a very balanced quarterback. He can run it, he can throw it.”
Even after receiver Kendall Wright was a first-round draft pick, Baylor has the nation’s leading receiver in Terrance Williams (159 yards per game).
“Nick has handled himself very, very well, because to me, I don’t really see a big drop off from Robert from the passing standpoint,” said Wright, who worked several days a week with Florence this summer after they had been on the second-team offense in practice in the past.
Florence, sporting a beard that he started growing in May and hasn’t trimmed for two months, is working on a master’s degree in business administration that he’s scheduled to complete in December 2013.
As far as his Baylor football career, he has at least three games left. Hopefully four.
“The fans here have been great, I don’t think they’ve compared me to (Griffin) once. I’m different,” Florence said. “If I try to compare and try to be like him, I’m going to fail completely. ... It just comes from my faith and my identity in Christ. For me, whatever I do on or off the field, I’m a winner in Christ, so I think that’s the way I approach the game.”