WACO — The quick-strike offense was still there — even if Robert Griffin III’s face was on the outside of Floyd Casey Stadium and not lining up behind the center.
But it was really the defense that lifted Baylor to a 59-24 win over Southern Methodist on Sunday.
“Defensively, when the game was a tight game, I thought we made some big plays,” said Baylor coach Art Briles. “That is stuff you have to do. Because we felt we had to come out and see what we were because just like everyone else, we weren’t sure.”
Mike Hicks returned a fumble 68 yards for a touchdown and also tipped a pass that was intercepted by Eddie Lackey as the defense shut down the Garrett Gilbert-led SMU offense for most of the game.
Meanwhile, the Bear offense cruised behind Nick Florence and Terrance Williams.
Florence finished 21-of-30 passing for 341 yards and four touchdowns. Williams was on the receiving end of seven of those passes for 138 yards, even though he didn’t get into the end zone for the Bears.
“Robert texted me before the game and told me just to be myself and I appreciate it,” Florence said of Griffin, who hyped Florence on Twitter prior to the game. “I learned a lot from Griff and he did a lot for our program and I think it goes to show that out coaches are recruiting great players and anything can happen here.”
The second-quickest strike of the day came on a 50-yard bomb to former Temple standout Tevin Reese with 2:02 left in the first half. The entire drive lasted three plays and 39 seconds.
The drive was set up by Lackey’s interception of Gilbert.
“Eddie came up with that pick and I think that was the turning point of the game right there,” said Florence, who took over the game from there, finding Reese wide open for the score and 21-3 lead.
“Me and Nick were both on the same page,” Reese said. “We saw the safety move to the middle and the linebacker cover me one-on-one and we just took advantage of it.
“When we score like that — fast offense — it is a big momentum-changer.”
Baylor put up 21 points in the third quarter, including a 36-yard pass from Florence to Lanear Sampson, which capped off the quickest strike of the day — a two-play 74-yard drive that took 33 seconds.
Sampson also scored the game’s first touchdown, catching a 6-yard pass from Florence less than four minutes into the first quarter.
“We talked about getting points on that first drive, and to do it two drives in a row was a good start for us and gave our defense some confidence,” Florence said. “We kind of got in a lag the next three or four drives, but we have to start like that and keep that rolling.”
Waco product Jarred Salubi rushed just 13 times for 91 yards and added a 9-yard touchdown run in the third quarter outburst.
Gilbert, meanwhile, finished the game a pedestrian 34 of 59 for 286 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, looking at times like the former five-star prospect, but more often than not the guy who couldn’t beat out former Belton product David Ash and Case McCoy at Texas.
SMU’s only score of the half came on a 22-yard field goal, after Gilbert sailed a pass a little high and it slipped through the hands of Keenan Holman on third-and-goal.
Florence and the Baylor offense didn’t have the same problems, racking up 613 yards of offense.
“Nick is a great quarterback and we were not worried because we just lost Robert,” Reese said. “I think it is a (message). I read a lot about people doubting us, saying we were going to win only four games total. So, we went out there and to get a big win like this just sets the tone for the rest of the season.”
Contact Nick Talbot at email@example.com or (254) 501-7569