Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A young fan wearing a Wake Forest T-shirt walked up to a player after the Demon Deacons’ 24-21 loss to Baylor on Saturday and asked for an autograph – Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin’s autograph.
As the Demon Deacons spent their postgame press conference trying to explain their four turnovers, Griffin and his teammates posed for photos and signed programs for fans as if they were on their home field. It was an entirely difference scenario from a year ago, when Wake Forest beat Baylor 41-13 in Waco, and that’s because those within Baylor’s program say this is a different, more confident and experienced team in the second season under coach Art Briles.
The Bears flew across the country and earned a win against a respectable Wake Forest team, and it reinforced what they already knew about themselves – they’re pretty darn good.
“This isn’t even our potential, I don’t think,” said defensive end Jason Lamb. “We still had a lot of mistakes, a lot of penalties. I know we’re a lot better than this. Getting a win against a pretty good ACC team, I mean, it’s not really a surprise to any of us. It’s kind of what we were expecting to do. We’ve just got to carry that out the rest of the year. It’s a different Baylor.”
Much of that has to do with the maturation of Griffin, who is only a sophomore, but he’s hardly their only answer. The defense also did a good job of flushing Riley Skinner out of the pocket and forcing him into three interceptions. Jay Finley rushed for 91 yards on 14 carries, and receiver David Gettis had five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.
“I came in this year trying to get the guys around me more involved, letting everybody see them shine instead of me shine,” said Griffin, who finished with 136 passing yards, 41 rushing yards, and one passing touchdown. “If I have to do some things out there, then I’ll do them, but for the most part, I’m just looking to let other guys make plays and allow myself to feel the flow of the game. The pressure’s not on me.”
Still, Griffin played better in ways that won’t show up in the box score – he had better ball protection, and made plays on third downs by pulling out of the pocket and scrambling. He had an outstanding season as a true freshman, but Baylor still finished 4-8 and 2-6 in the Big 12 South. This year they’re aiming much higher.
“Last year a lot of people said we might have had false confidence, but we were just shooting our hopes real high,” said Griffin. “This year, we know what we’re going to do. We know our offense, we know our coaches. Players make plays, and that’s how you win games.”
Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner said the biggest difference he noticed in Baylor was their experience.
“They’ve got a lot of veteran guys on their team,” Skinner said. “They’ve been through the ropes. They’re smart and they don’t screw up much.”
Briles said “it feels better right now than it did a year ago,” but that he never gets comfortable and will keep working to catch up with the rest of the conference.
“I think what we’ve learned is that now we have some staying power, where last year we’d fight and get close, but this year we fought and we won,” Briles said. “That’s a big, big difference, and that’s something hopefully we can carry throughout the season.
This win should help give them the confidence to do that.
“Everything we’ve been working on for the past eight or nine months, it gives it a better foundation,” Griffin said. “Everything the coaches have been preaching to us, and our strength coaches have been preaching to us, if the guys didn’t believe it, they’re going to believe it now. And if they did, they’ll believe even more in it. That’s good for us.”
And a little scary for the rest of the Big 12.