Streaking Florence ready for huge challenge against Texas

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Baylor stunned the Big 12 with the upset of the season last week, snatching a victory at Missouri to keep the Bears’ bowl hopes alive.

To continue that streak, the 4-5 Bears need to pull the biggest upset in the conference’s history this week as they square off against No. 3 Texas in Waco.

Despite those daunting odds, Baylor freshman quarterback Nick Florence remains unfazed. That attitude is understandable, considering what he accomplished last week.

Florence set the Baylor single-game passing record last week, blistering Missouri for 427 yards and three touchdowns passes. Coming into the game, Florence had thrown only two touchdown passes in his previous 147 attempts in his career.

“That game was huge for us,” Florence said. “All along, I knew we were a good football team, but we just had to execute. We had a good week of practice and that work showed on the field.”

Several days later, Florence was just as ebullient when asked what that game did for his team’s confidence, which had been flagging after four early Big 12 losses and producing only 34 points in the Bears' first four conference games. In their previous game against Nebraska, the Bears had failed to score an offensive touchdown for the first time in the last two seasons.

But despite those earlier struggles, Florence started hot against the Tigers and remained that way throughout the game. He hit 11 of his first 12 passes and didn’t stop until he had blown the game open with four scoring drives during a six-possession span late in the game.

“It’s been awhile for us to have that kind of effort and was just a blast for it to happen like it did,” Florence said. “It just shows we are a good team and we can execute when we have a chance on the field.”

That binge wasn’t a shock to Baylor coach Art Briles, who said he has seen flashes of growth in Florence over the past several weeks.

"I think he played with a lot of poise, a lot of confidence and a lot of belief,” Briles said. “With his increased repetitions, his confidence and anticipation skills have gotten better. It was a good deal that it happened, but was I surprised? I don’t think so.”

Florence began the season as the Bears’ third-string quarterback behind starter Robert Griffin and veteran backup Blake Szymanski. His rise is even more improbable considering that he spent last season at Baylor apart from his team as a “grayshirt.”

While his current teammates competed in the 2008 season, Florence went to the Summer Olympics in Beijing with an evangelical group and made some extra money by working as a window washer around Waco. It gave him the opportunity for another year of maturity before his chance to play arrived this season.

“It was kind of weird for me,” Florence said. “It was the first season I hadn’t played football since I was in about the fourth grade. Not to have a game on Friday or Saturday night was a little strange. But it was fun to watch games and be a fan of football. It gave me the chance of seeing things from a different angle.”

But the Baylor season turned around when Griffin went down with a season-ending knee injury in the victory over Northwestern State on Sept. 26.

Szymanski also was hurt in that game, opening an opportunity for Florence, who started five of the next six games. The only game that Florence hasn’t started since Griffin’s injury was an Oct. 17 loss to Iowa State, which was started by Szymanski.

“We’ve felt pretty good the last couple of weeks about his development and the guys rallying around him,” Briles said. “That’s as critical a factor as anything else. They are really starting to play together.”

That belief will be tested against Texas, which will come into the game with one of the stingiest defenses in the nation. The Longhorns will challenge Baylor with a defense that leads the nation in total defense and rushing defense, and leads the Big 12 in pass defense. The Longhorns are allowing only 230.8 total yards per game.

The opportunity doesn’t intimidate Florence, who said he is excited about playing the Longhorns and keeping the Bears’ postseason hopes alive after his mammoth game last week.

“I don’t even know how to describe this opportunity,” Florence said. “I never would have been able to imagine something like this. It’s kind of surreal. What’s happened in the last eight weeks has been a wild ride. We’ll just play Texas this week and see what we can do.”