Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: December 9, 1:45 AM ET
Best of Baylor
By Jeff Miller
Special to ESPNDallas.com
WACO, Texas -- Last Saturday dawned as potentially one of the great days in the history of Baylor football.
Junior quarterback Robert Griffin III could clinch an invitation to the Heisman Memorial Trophy presentation this Saturday in New York. And the Bears looked to win their second consecutive game in 101 meetings against the Texas Longhorns, which would equal their longest winning streak in the series.
The overcast sky was a faucet -- dripping, drizzling and occasionally gushing full force. Up in a suite on the west side of Floyd Casey Stadium, a hero from one of Baylor football's greatest days looked out at the sky and the rain and could think of only one word.
"Eerie," said Neal Jeffrey.
It was as if the same sky and rain had enveloped the stadium on Nov. 9, 1974, when the "Miracle on the Brazos" took place. Jeffrey, an All-Southwest Conference senior, quarterbacked Grant Teaff's unranked Bears out of a 24-7 halftime hole against No. 12 Texas to win 34-24 and end a 17-game losing streak in the series. Baylor went on to claim its first SWC championship in 50 years and its first berth as the league's representative to the Cotton Bowl Classic.
The Bears' 48-24 victory last Saturday didn't deliver another conference championship. But Griffin's performance, early and often, seemingly earned him a seat on the front row next Saturday when the 77th Heisman is awarded in Times Square. Indeed, Griffin on Monday was named one of five finalists for the coveted bronze.
A polling last Sunday of ESPN personnel who are Heisman voters had Griffin taking the lead over Stanford senior quarterback Andrew Luck and Alabama junior running back Trent Richardson, neither of whom played last Saturday.
"We could be wrong, but we thought if we came out and got a victory we should win the Heisman," Griffin said. "I don't know if you could say we deserve it, but it definitely would be warranted."
Griffin wasted no time against a UT defense that had not allowed a touchdown pass of 20 yards or longer this season. OK, he wasted one play. And after that incompletion on a first down, he sailed a 59-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Wright on a post route.
|During the 48-24 thumping of Texas, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III finished with 322 yards and two touchdowns passing to complement two scoring runs.|
Against a Longhorns defense that went into the game ranked ninth nationally, Griffin finished with two TD passes, two touchdown runs and, according to Baylor senior running back Terrance Ganaway, a "butt-load" of passing yards. Technically, it was 322, giving him 3,998 passing yards going into the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on Dec. 29, when No. 15 Baylor (9-3) plays unranked Washington (7-5). The Bears' 511 yards of total offense are the most allowed this season by the Longhorns.
Griffin also had a pooch punt downed at Texas' 13-yard line (looked like it would roll farther), laid a solid block on UT linebacker Jordan Hicks, and while recovering from a spill even executed a nice backward somersault following a 40-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter. This certainly didn't look like a player sidelined for the second half against Texas Tech seven days earlier by an elbow to the head.
"He's the most dynamic player in the NCAA right now," Ganaway said. "Why wouldn't he win it?"
The Bears raced to a 14-0 lead on "drives" that lasted 22 seconds and 1:03. Griffin spent almost the entire first quarter literally sitting on the bench, watching play on the video board in the south end zone and saying almost nothing.
Just another day at the office, according to sophomore fullback Erik Wolfe, who was frequently sitting next to Griffin.
"I tried to talk to him. He just was zoned out, just spacin' out, looking at the ground," Wolfe said. "He said, 'You've gotta excuse me. I do that from time to time. I'm thinking about going out and finishing this game.'
"I applaud him getting not so worked up," Wolfe said. "I mean, when you've got that many cameras on you all the time and you can stay as composed as he is and focus on the task at hand, that's incredible."
He's the most dynamic player in the NCAA right now. Why wouldn't he win it?
-- Baylor running back Terrance Ganaway, on the prospects of Robert Griffin III claiming the Heisman Trophy
Texas, once again playing without its three top running backs, responded to take a 21-14 lead -- only to see Baylor regroup with the first half's final 10 points to get back on top, 24-21, at intermission.
Then, like in 1974, the Bears took command in the third quarter. After UT kicked a field goal on the first possession of the third quarter to tie the score, the Bears ran off 17 points on drives that consumed a combined 5:01.
Baylor's counterpunch was certainly no surprise to Baylor coach Art Briles.
"We're not going to start huggin' and kissin' when we go up 14-0 because we realize there's a lot of time left," he said, "and we're not going to start pouting and complaining when we go down 21-14."
Up in the suite, Jeffrey, now associate pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, was practically ready to suit up again. "For one hit," he specified.
"For guys like me, it's just sweet to experience this whole thing," Jeffrey said. "We knew Robert was a great runner. I don't think anybody realized he'd be this kind of thrower, this kind of playmaker."
After 1974's "Miracle on the Brazos," the final score was left on the scoreboard all night and the school's president and vice president camped out that night in the stadium. Last Saturday night, the scoreboard was turned off minutes after the final whistle.
That probably says a lot about Briles, who has taken the Bears to back-to-back bowls for the first time since 1991-92. That was the end of Teaff's storied 21-year tenure, now honored by his statue outside Floyd Casey Stadium. If Baylor wins the Alamo Bowl, the 10 wins will tie the school record set by Teaff's 1980 conference champs.
Briles was still Houston's coach when he got a commitment from Griffin, considered by many college coaches more of a track star than football prospect. Briles was confident Griffin was a major college quarterback. (Briles took the Baylor job before Griffin signed with the Bears.)
Griffin's play in the regular-season finale against UT last Saturday bookended his heroics in a 50-48 comeback against TCU in the Bears' opener, when he threw for five touchdowns against a Horned Frogs defense that has been among college football's best in recent years, and even caught a pass to keep alive the winning drive.
Of course there were many other RG3 highlights: Late in the season, there was the 21-0 fourth quarter to stun Kansas and the last-minute TD pass to break a 20-game losing streak against Oklahoma.
The question remains whether Griffin will go pro now. He earned his bachelor's degree in political science last December, is enrolled in grad school -- studying communications -- and plans to attend law school after playing in the NFL. He's also engaged, to Baylor graduate Rebecca Liddicoat, and has said the wedding will take place after his Baylor football career ends.
Asked if he thought during the game's closing moments he might be playing his final home game, Griffin quickly gave a little laugh and said, "Some of the guys on the team were joking around, saying this was going to be my last game at 'Case.' I don't know.
"It's sad that I have to make that decision," Griffin said. "But I'll take it when that time comes. Right now we can enjoy this victory and get ready for the bowl game, not worry about the pressure that comes with that."
|The big question on the minds of Baylor fans -- and NFL personnel alike -- is whether Griffin, a junior, will go pro now. "I don't know," Griffin said.