By Tyler Alley
One minute, junior Nick Florence is standing on the sidelines, helping the offense and cheering on his teammates to victory as he has done all year.
The next minute, Baylor football’s medical staff chooses to keep star quarterback junior Robert Griffin III out of the second half against Texas Tech, and the coaching staff calls Florence’s number and send him into the game, sending possible waves of doubt and worry into Baylor football fans.
“When people see [Robert] get hurt, they’ll be like, ‘We’re not going to win,’” senior receiver Kendall Wright said. “But when Nick came in, it helped us. As a skill group we all got together and we just had to rally around Nick and keep him positive.”
And rally around him they did.
Baylor went into halftime with a 31-28 lead, not exactly a comfortable margin.
Florence quickly put all doubt to sleep by throwing two touchdowns in the third quarter: one 46-yarder to Wright and another 40-yard pass to junior receiver Terrance Williams.
“Throwing that first touchdown pass was huge,” Florence said. “I haven’t played all year and I thought back to two years ago and I just tried to think good thoughts because that is all that you can do in that type of situation. I just had confidence that I had grown as a player and the team had confidence. The first touchdown in the second half brought life to our sideline and belief that we had the game. We weren’t going to let this [game go] because it was our turn and our time to beat Texas Tech.”
Florence ended the game with 151 yards and two touchdowns, as well as a rushing touchdown. His ability to step in for Griffin earned him praise from the opposing head coach.
“I thought he did a great job,” head coach Tommy Tuberville said. “We’ve watched him before. They either ran the ball with him or threw the ball deep. He threw two touchdown passes, two very good ones on the money.”
Baylor head coach Art Briles had originally intended to redshirt Florence for the season. If Florence did not play this year, the redshirt would allow him two extra years of eligibility.
If Griffin were to leave after this season for the NFL, Florence would have been able to take over the offense for the next two seasons.
“The deal with … Nick — and it’s kind of been our thought process since the first day of camp — if we can redshirt Nick, we think for the program down the line, we think for him, that that’s the best thing to do,” Briles said after the Stephen F. Austin game earlier this season. “He agrees with that, which is Nick all the way. Nick is a great team person, a great leader and he’s a very intelligent person. He’s a good guy for us to have in the meeting room and the sidelines.”
The redshirt opportunity for this year ended Saturday, but Briles said there still can be a plan for Florence.
“There’s a game left in this season besides the bowl game,” Briles said. “He can always redshirt next year. He’s got a redshirt sitting out there and he can be around in 2013.”
This is not the first time Florence has taken the helm for the Baylor offense. Two years ago, Griffin went down early in the year with his ACL injury, as did then-quarterback Blake Szymanski. Florence, a true freshman, stepped in during the third game and would start seven games that season.
His first career start was against Kent State, throwing for 216 yard with no touchdowns or interceptions.
That same year, he set the Baylor record for passing yards in a game with 427 against Missouri, with three touchdowns.