COLUMBIA — When Baylor's spring football practices began, Nick Florence was a freshman buried in the depth chart. After Baylor's 40-32 victory over Missouri, he is the guy holding Baylor's record for passing yards in a single game.
Florence threw for 427 yards and two touchdowns as the Baylor passing game carried the Bears to the win.
But it wasn't supposed to go like this.
Baylor was winless in the Big 12.
Any chance for offensive fireworks from Baylor was supposed to go down with Robert Griffin. And for the most part, it had.
The 40 points for Baylor on Saturday were six more than the Bears had scored in their first four Big 12 games combined, all without Griffin, the explosive sophomore quarterback who was lost for the season after tearing his ACL.
After five games in which he never threw for more than 235 yards, Florence had the best game for a quarterback against the Tigers this season, including Missouri's shredding at the hands of Texas QB Colt McCoy.
Following the game several Tigers attempted to give Baylor credit for being a quality opponent.
"They have scholarships just like we have scholarships," junior cornerback Kevin Rutland said.
But this wasn't Texas. Or Oklahoma State. Or even Colorado. Could anyone have seen this coming?
"No, I didn't honestly," junior linebacker Andrew Gachkar said when asked if he expected Baylor to be able to throw the ball as well as it did.
Florence was handed the starting job after both Griffin and backup Blake Szymanski went down with injuries.
"From the time that Griffin went down, and then Blake went down, people thought that we didn't have a third string quarterback, the season is over with," Baylor linebacker Joe Pawelek said.
Saturday was enough to prove those people wrong, but Florence's five previous games gave no indication that he was capable of a performance like this.
"I thought their quarterback played a great game," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "He connected in no time like he did on film this year."
Much of Baylor's passing game in the first half consisted of quick passes designed to get the ball into the hands of their quick receivers with room to run after the catch. But in the second half the Bears began to gouge the Missouri secondary on deeper routes, including a 59-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Kendall Wright.
"They hit us over the top with long plays, and that's something as a defense that will kill you," senior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said.
After being asked whether Baylor was able to continue having success on certain kinds of plays, Weatherspoon quickly nodded.
"They kept going back to what was working," Weatherspoon said. "Obviously, if you're going out and doing things right, and executing, then why stop it?"
The long completions allowed Florence to rack up more than 225 second half yards and break the previous record of 412 yards, set by Szymanski in 2007. But for Florence the completion that put his total up to 417 was just another step forward to a bigger goal.
"I didn't even know I broke the record," Florence said. "A win is a win. Who cares what my stats are?"
While Florence's performance was one that Gachkar didn't anticipate, the highlights provided by the Baylor receiving corps were ones that he was ready for. Wright tallied 10 catches for 149 yards, including two touchdowns. And fellow wide receiver David Gettis added eight catches for 110 yards.
"They had an extremely good receiving corps," Gachkar said. "From this year, I would say they're probably the first or second best receiving corps we've faced."
Weatherspoon said the game is a reminder of what can happen during any given week, but while Florence helped to prove what the Bears are capable of he says that changing the way people see his team isn't what he's after.
"We go out there playing to win," Florence said. "It's not about gaining respect."