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Baylor quarterback to test Missouri's defense

Thursday, October 30, 2008 | 9:59 p.m. CDT; updated 3:01 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 15, 2009
Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin, a 6-foot-3 freshman, finished third at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 400-meter hurdles. The Missouri defense will have to match Griffin's speed Saturday afternoon in Waco, Texas.

By ANDREW ASTLEFORD

sports@ColumbiaMissourian.com

Saturday's game

No. 14 Missouri (6-3, 2-2 Big 12) at Baylor (3-5, 1-3)

WHEN: 2 p.m.

WHERE: Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texa

RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM



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Here comes another one. Missouri defenders say they are ready. They have faced athletic quarterbacks before but nobody quite like Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin.

He is a track athlete. Last spring, the 6-foot-3 freshman from Copperas Cove, Texas, finished third at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 400-meter hurdles, finishing in 49.55 seconds. A month earlier, he won a gold medal in the same event at the Big 12 Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

"We have been seeing dual-threat quarterbacks, but this guy is a track athlete, so he definitely can run," Missouri defensive end Stryker Sulak said. "That's something we're going to have to watch for. We're going to have to be able to contain him, because it's going to be really hard to match his speed on defense."

Missouri will have to match Griffin's speed to prevent the Bears from entertaining upset ambitions Saturday afternoon in Waco, Texas. A week after earning its first shutout of the season, Missouri's defense will be tested by one of the Big 12 Conference's rising stars.

In December 2007, Griffin graduated from Copperas Cove High School. Before the winter semester, he enrolled at Baylor and participated in spring practice. By spring's end, he emerged as a contender for the starting position with quarterbacks Kirby Freeman and Blake Szymanski.

The decision has jump-started Griffin's career. He has established himself as the No. 1 option. Through eight games, he has thrown for 1,405 yards, rushed for 554 and has compiled 18 all-purpose touchdowns (nine each rushing and passing). He has yet to throw an interception.

He has raised eyebrows in Columbia.

"We just have to keep him contained in the pocket," defensive end Tommy Chavis said. "The front four has to do a great job of getting a great push on him and keeping pressure on him the whole game."

Getting a push and keeping pressure will be central to Missouri's success. In games in which the Tigers' defense has struggled, athletic offensive lines have overpowered Missouri's defensive front. But, last Saturday, Missouri held Colorado's anemic offense to 41 rushing yards and produced two sacks (one each against quarterbacks Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen).

Missouri defenders credit improved focus as reason for their success. Players said they eliminated distractions on game day. They switched off televisions in the locker room and avoided as much televised commentary as possible.

"It was the first time I watched fishing in a while," defensive tackle Ziggy Hood said, smiling.

Said defensive tackle Jaron Baston: "We stopped watching what people said about us. You can't worry about it. People get paid to do their job, and a lot of people's job is to criticize.

"It doesn't help if we sit around and listen to all the things they have to say. A lot of guys stopped watching that stuff. We just sat in our room, talked and got around each other and were ready to play."

Come Saturday, Missouri's defense will need to be ready to play once more. Griffin's threat will require a concentrated approach.

"It's just so impressive," defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. "Not throwing an interception and taking care of the football. Normally you don't see those things from a freshman."

 


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