DALLAS (AP) - Week by week, No. 17 Baylor keeps showing signs of being a program on the rise, and not just because the Bears have the remarkable Robert Griffin III taking snaps.
Hanging 50 points on TCU’s vaunted defense and pulling out a late win was one thing. Following that with a victory over an FCS school didn’t prove much, except the Bears admittedly came out flat, yet still clobbered Stephen F. Austin 48-0 in a game halted after 39 minutes because of bad weather.
The next challenge comes Saturday night at home against Rice (1-1). A win would give the Bears their first 3-0 start since 2005, a sweep of their nonconference record and extend what’s already their longest stay in the Top 25 since 1991.
The Owls are coming off a win over Purdue, their first against a team from a BCS conference since 2001, ending an 0-22 stretch. They were off last weekend, giving them more time to study the Bears, and to remember the game that got away from them last season. Rice lost 30-13 at home in a rain-drenched game marred by turnovers and a 67-minute delay.
Griffin is completing 84 percent of his passes. Better still, he has as many touchdowns (eight) as incompletions (eight). He leads the nation in passing efficiency and ranks third in total offense. His accuracy is no fluke, either, as he started his college career with an NCAA-record 209 throws before his first interception.
“He is one of the most exciting players I have ever watched in college football,” Rice coach David Bailiff said. “He was exciting last season, but he has really matured and making great decisions with the football. He is doing an amazing job this season.”
Griffin is the kind of player who makes everyone around him better. The Bears boast eight guys with offensive touchdowns in just two games. It’s also no coincidence that Griffin’s favorite target, Kendall Wright, has set school records for career catches and yards, and is tied for the most touchdown catches.
But in his fourth season in Waco, coach Art Briles is showing signs of a roster with talent all over the place _ including the bench. There’s less of a dropoff when a starter gives way to a backup.
“Before, if a guy got hurt, you’re struggling to find somebody that’s going to be able to do the same or just fill the spot for a little bit,” said Griffin, who noted depth on the offensive line and elsewhere. “When you’ve got banged-up receivers, you’ve got to have other guys that can go in there and play. And we definitely had that this last week. So the depth here at Baylor is a lot better than it has been.”
Briles also has players buying into the small-picture approach.
Rather than being impressed by what they’ve done so far, players realize this club is still only learning how good it can be. The real test will come in Big 12 play, which begins with a pair of games the Bears will be favored to win (at Kansas State and home against Iowa State).
“I know these next couple games are going to be difficult if we come out as flat as we did (the last game),” running back Terrance Ganaway said. “The main thing is just to keep practicing hard. I thought I had a good week of practice; it’s just that the level of intensity that I played with, or lack thereof, was not good on my part at all.”
Baylor’s defense will try building on its first shutout since 1995, and first at home since ‘85.
Rice is ranked in the 100s nationally in total offense and total defense, but put together enough plays at the right time to beat Purdue 24-22. Sophomore quarterback Taylor McHargue has set career highs in attempts and completions in each game this season. He was 19 of 29 for 230 yards against the Boilermakers.
“We have to have an incredible defensive and offensive effort,” Bailiff said. “It has to be a total team effort. When we get the football, we will have to eat minutes and keep Baylor’s offense off the field and on defense come up with some stops and takeaways.”