Nick Florence has been around long enough to remember when Texas used to beat Baylor. - Justin K. Aller
A member of the same recruiting class as RGIII, Nick Florence is now emerging from his predecessor's shadow.
At any school, replacing a Heisman-winning quarterback would be a tall task. Fifth-year senior quarterback Nick Florence is doing it at a school without a history of recent success, but does have the major advantage of playing in what is essentially a plug-and-play scheme for Art Briles.
And that isn't to diminish the significant accomplishments of the Baylor starter this season, but merely to give credit to Briles for devising an offense that can operate at a high level after losing a star like RGIII.
Add in Briles' work as a quarterback coach and Florence has gone from a three-star prospect to the FBS leader in yards per attempt and the current runner-up to Geno Smith in quarterback rating. His only other reported offer coming out of high school was from Purdue.
A former greyshirt from South Garland, Florence went to Beijing on a mission trip for the Olympics before enrolling at Baylor and spending a semester washing windows. Call it the road less traveled.
After joining the team in the spring of 2009, Florence was thrust into action that fall when Griffin suffered his season-ending knee injury and Blake Szymanski went down as well. In fact, Florence was the starter against Texas the last time the Longhorns beat Baylor, a 47-14 mudstomping at Floyd Casey that November.
In the game, the true freshman threw for 240 yards, but averaged only 5.3 yards per attempt and threw two interceptions, one of which was returned 60 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Eddie Jones.
This season, Florence has again struggled some with interceptions, having thrown nine on the season, including four last weekend against TCU, many of which came from a clean pocket. The first game against SMU was clean for Florence in that department, but he threw two against FCS opponent Sam Houston State and another two against Louisiana-Monroe and has only managed that one interception-less performance.
Decision making appears to be a problem for Florence at times despite some gaudy stats that include the aforementioned numbers, nearly 2,000 passing yards, and a 63.6% completion rate.
A dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school, the Garland native doesn't run the football often, but was effective doing so against ULM and SHSU. After getting into conference play, those numbers have dropped off into negative yardage in the last two games (non-sack adjusted).
Listed at 6-1, Florence may actually be a bit taller, as Rivals verified him as 6-2 in high school. In any case, he has adequate size for the position, with above-average arm strength and touch -- despite his humble ratings coming out of high school, Florence is a solid athlete with good tools. He's not a statue and he's not an undersized passer like Todd Reesing surviving despite limited physical ability.
So while Duane Akina called him a system quarterback, he's still more gifted than several of the players who led Texas Tech back in the last decade and probably deserves a little more credit than that.
Florence also benefits from what is probably the best wide receiver corps in the Big 12, led by senior wide receiver Terrance Williams, who is closing in on 1,000 yards receiving already, with eight touchdowns. Expected to be a top pick in the NFL draft come April, Williams is a former two-star prospect who has emerged under Briles to become a 6-2, 205-pound ball of terror for opposing defensive backs.
His 17 catches for 314 yards and two touchdowns against West Virginia would be good for third on the Texas team in receptions and second in yards. From one game.
The second and third receivers, Tevin Reese and Lanear Simpson, are both smaller receivers capable of making big plays as well. Reese averages over 20 yards per catch and has scored four touchdowns on the season.
All told, the Baylor receivers will provide a major challenge to the Texas defensive backs as the best all-around group they've faced this season, and Florence is more than capable of getting them the ball.
The Texas defense will just have to force him into some bad decisions as they try to cause the Baylor signal-caller to flash back to the days when the Longhorns beating the Bears was basically a given.
Oddly enough, the times have surely changed, but the Baylor quarterback is the same after serving as a back up the last two seasons.