WACO, Texas – At times it looked like the Baylor Bears were playing on fast forward.
Those were the times when freshman quarterback Robert Griffin had the ball.
The rest of the intersectional matchup? That was played at a different speed, especially by the Washington State defense.
The result was a surprisingly easy 45-17 Baylor win before a crowd of 25,595, limited by the approach of Hurricane Ike and the Friday night contest made necessary by the hurricane.
“That quarterback makes everybody look slow,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said.
Friday nights are high school football nights in Texas – there’s even a TV show about it – and that’s appropriate. This time last season Griffin was making Texas Class 4A defenses look silly.
The venue may have changed, but the results didn’t.
Griffin set a Baylor single-game rushing mark with 217, which included two runs of 58 – a third-quarter scoring dash and his last carry midway through the fourth quarter – and one of 57 among his 11 carries. He also tossed a 61-yard bullet to David Gettis, part of his 7-of-15 passing night for 129 yards.
“He can run,” Wulff said. “When we forced him to throw it, that wasn’t the issue. The issue was containing his athleticism.”
That athleticism allowed Griffin so many highlights against WSU’s defense – a unit that’s yielding an average of 50 points a game in its first three, all losses – they were hard to cull down.
There was his first-quarter 27-yard touchdown pass to Ernest Smith in the back right corner of the end zone.
Griffin was under pressure from the snap, but bought time by reversing his field and running out of the pocket to the right side. He looked to everyone as if he was going to tuck and run. But he kept his eyes downfield, spied Smith and fired – off just his back leg. Though Smith had to make a leaping catch, the ball was still where only he could get it.
“Some of the big plays were on us,” linebacker Greg Trent said. “We didn’t accomplish our assignments in part. But other times he made smart decisions and took off when we were in the right coverage.”
In the second quarter Griffin faked to Jay Finley and took off around right end. An unblocked Kevin Kooyman couldn’t cut him off, missing an ankle tackle.
“I thought I had him,” Kooyman said. “Usually, I can get a guy like that.”
Myron Beck couldn’t slow Griffin down. Neither could any of the Cougars until Griffin cut back to the middle of the field and Tyrone Justin ran him down – after a 57-yard gain.
And consider this. Last year at this time he was playing quarterback for Copperas Cove High in Copperas Cove, Texas, about an hour southwest of Waco. He graduated from CCHS in December, enrolled at Baylor and ran the 400-meter hurdles for the Bears, finishing third in the NCAAs behind WSU’s Jeshua Anderson. From an Army family, Griffin actually spent some time in the Puget Sound area while his father was stationed at Ft. Lewis.
But he didn’t give WSU a hometown discount, though the Cougars were in a giving mood again.
Washington State had five turnovers, including two interceptions and a fumble from junior quarterback Kevin Lopina, making his first collegiate start.
“The mistakes that we make are so big,” Wulff said, “and so compounding right now. On defense we weren’t lining up correctly at times … and on offense we had four turnovers that were critical.”
The big ones included a mix-up between Lopina and center Kenny Alfred on a shotgun snap that led to a fumble – recovered by middle linebacker Joe Pawelek – and Baylor’s second score.
There was also a late fumble by Lopina on one of Baylor’s seven sacks, a few plays after injured his wrist on his throwing hand. X-rays at the stadium were negative and Lopina expects to be back this week.
His line wasn’t Favre-like – 17 of 26 for 174 yards – but he did drive the Cougars to a quick score and a 7-0 lead – their first lead of the year. The score came on a 1-yard run by junior Chantz Staden, starting in place of Dwight Tardy or Chris Ivory.
When asked about Tardy not playing early Wulff was succinct.
“We still got a few players who think they can miss class and play,” he said. “We’ve got to fix that.”
When asked if Tardy and Ivory were part of that group, he said, “It’s about three of them, about three kids, I’m not going to name them.”
Griffin quickly put the Bears (2-1 overall, 0-0 Big 12 Conference) up 14-7 with a 1-yard scoring run and the pass to Smith, but WSU rallied back.
After Matt Mullenix sacked Griffin on fourth-and-9 at the WSU 38 – Griffin’s lone loss – Lopina led the Cougars on an eight-play, 3-minute, 45-second march.
Included was a 21 yard imitation of Griffin – only a bit slower – and the capper, another keeper for 8 yards and the score.
“It was rough at times,” Lopina said. “I thought we were moving the ball well at times in the first half, then just small mistakes (like) me turning over the ball. We can’t have that. But I thought our offense took some small steps (a season-high 340 yards of total offense) though we could have made some bigger ones.”
But the Bears would run off 28 unanswered points – Griffin had a hand in all of them – and WSU was off to its worst season start since 1999.
“We’re a little bit (frustrated),” said Brandon Gibson, who finished with eight catches for a season-high 128 yards. “But the thing is we’ve got to pick it up. There’s a game next week.”
At home against Portland State. At least Robert Griffin won’t be there.