Following Baylor’s rousing 49-26 win over UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, a busload of jubilant players celebrated as they left San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium.
It was Baylor quarterback Nick Florence’s last game after a brilliant senior year.
Suddenly Bryce Petty realized it was his turn to take the keys to the Baylor offense.
“Not to say it in a conceited way, but it was my time now,” Petty said. “I had waited, learned and grown and now it was time to put all that stuff to the test and prove what I can do.”
After three seasons as an understudy to Robert Griffin III and Florence, Petty is eager to show his skills as he opens preseason camp as the Bears’ starting quarterback.
The fourth-year junior is the guy the Baylor players are looking toward to provide leadership and maintain the team’s productivity at quarterback as they pre
pare for their Aug. 31 season opener against Wofford.
“We have all the confidence in the world in Bryce,” Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon said. “That’s our quarterback. He sat behind great quarterbacks and has learned everything he needs to know. We know he’s ready to go out there and showcase his skills.”
With plenty of talent surrounding Petty, Briles expects him to be highly productive like Griffin who passed for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns in his 2011 Heisman winning season and Florence who passed for a school-record 4,309 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Briles’ offense is designed for quarterbacks to put up big numbers.
“The first thing that popped into my mind is (for Petty) to break every Baylor record there is offensively,” Briles said. “It’s what we expect him to do and what he plans to do.”
In the fitting room
But Briles said the Bears need to find out what plays and formations suit Petty’s skills the best as he learns to direct the offense.
“We’ve got to find what fits him,” Briles said. “Once we find out what works for him it helps our chances to become very successful. He has to show he can throw the deep ball and pick up big first downs on third and one. We will identify what he can do to help us win.”
Petty hasn’t been a starting quarterback since his senior year at Midlothian High School in 2008. After grayshirting in 2009 and redshirting in 2010, Petty has thrown just 14 passes in the last two seasons for the Bears.
While he has picked up everything he can from watching Griffin and Florence, Petty acknowledges that it’s a big step forward to move into the starting quarterback role. Quarterbacks in Briles’ offense have to think quickly to operate his high-tempo offense.
“It’s one thing being on the sidelines and hearing what (the coaches) want and being on the field and knowing what they want,” Petty said. “We run a real fast-tempo offense. Things can get a little hectic at times. But I think the best quarterback in this offense is just the one who is confident in what he is doing and being decisive.”
Petty believes he began getting more in tune with Briles’ fast-paced offense as spring drills progressed. In Baylor’s final two spring scrimmages, Petty hit 18 of 25 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns and 13 of 15 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
“I really think the second-to-last scrimmage was when I figured out what was going on and what I needed to do,” Petty said. “There wasn’t a specific play or series. It just kind of happened and during the spring game I guess it kind of went right as far as the wheels turning.”
With Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin in the backfield, the Bears have a chance for two running backs to surpass 1,000 yards. In the Holiday Bowl romp over UCLA, the Bears rushed for 306 yards and five touchdowns on 67 carries while Florence hit 10 of 13 passes for 188 yards and two scores.
What it takes to win
Petty would accept that kind of rush-to-pass ratio every game if that’s what it takes to win. He wants Seastrunk and Martin to pile up big running numbers.
“That’s fine with me as long as we get that ring on my finger,” Petty said. “The offense will most definitely be on their back which is where they want it, and it will make everybody better.”
While the Bears have racked up massive passing yards in Briles’ offense, they’ve also featured 1,000-yard rushers the last three years with Jay Finley, Terrance Ganaway and Seastrunk.
“It’s one of those deals where people think it’s a pass-heavy offense, and it’s not,” Petty said. “It’s based off the run. Our run sets up the pass where it’s great for us. It makes it easy as far as the quarterback to get it out there if you have a real good rushing attack.”
Petty has waited for his moment in the spotlight much like Florence had to wait as Griffin’s backup. Like Florence, Petty hopes his patience pays off with productive numbers and a successful season.
“His faith was a big part of his game and it’s definitely been a big part of mine,” Petty said. “That patience to go out (and wait) for years was tough and my faith has really gotten me through that.”
BEAR FACTS: After two preseason workouts, Baylor coach Art Briles has been impressed with the play of his veteran defense which returns eight starters. “We’re much farther along on that side of the ball. They’re where they’re supposed to be at the right time and doing what they’re supposed to do.”... Highly touted freshman receiver Robbie Rhodes from Fort Worth Southwest is starting to learn the college game and is getting help from Baylor’s veteran receivers. “I’m starting to get the hang of it, but the Baylor offense moves pretty quick. I know it’s going to take more work and practice and hopefully I’ll be ready when the season starts.”