Like everyone else, Baylor coach Art Briles has learned on the fly about the Bears’ latest Heisman Trophy candidate.
At times, quarterback Bryce Petty has surprised him, too.
But not with the NFL physique (6-foot-3, 230 pounds), superior arm strength or ability to throw for 2,453 yards and 18 touchdowns in Petty’s first seven starts at the college level. Briles anticipated most of that, suggesting in July that the junior from Midlothian had the skills to “break every Baylor record there is offensively.”
Instead, what has caught Briles’ attention during Baylor’s historic climb to No. 6 in the BCS standings has been Petty’s primary intangible.
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“I didn’t realize he was that calm on the inside,” Briles said during Monday’s news conference. “And that’s a good thing.”
It’s a trait that should come in handy Thursday night when Baylor (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) meets No. 10 Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1) in the most-anticipated football game ever played in Floyd Casey Stadium. School officials have removed the tarp covering seats in the south end zone and a capacity-plus crowd is expected for the national telecast (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1).
That means lots of noise, and lots of nerves, for players on both teams. Petty, who leads the nation in passing efficiency (219 rating), embraces the electric atmosphere with open arms.
“This is the biggest game of my career. But it’s one that I’ve been waiting on for a long time,” said Petty, who has led Baylor to seven consecutive victories by an average margin of 64-16. “I have to be in the moment but I have to be controlled in that moment. As a player, as a competitor, that’s what you live for.”
Petty has shown he can handle Baylor’s spread offense. He’s posted a 69.3 completion rate with an 18-1 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions. But he’s never faced a Top 25 opponent. And he’s rarely played in the second half, with his only pressure-packed, fourth-quarter snaps coming in a 35-25 victory at Kansas State on Oct. 12.
In the Bears’ last game, a 59-14 rout of Kansas, Petty acknowledged he was “too overhyped for that game,” which triggered a slower-than-expected start by Baylor standards. The Bears led only 38-0 by halftime.
Ideally, Petty would prefer a start more similar to the ones he had in victories over Buffalo (70-13) and West Virginia (73-42), when Baylor hit 56 points by halftime in both games. That total is unlikely against Oklahoma. But Petty seeks to operate with similar efficiency while overseeing the highest-ranked Baylor team since the 1953 season.
He also looks forward to the chance to make some game-deciding, fourth-quarter throws.
“Those 70-point games are great. But I want to be in there with the game on the line. I want the ball in my hands,” Petty said. “My job in this offense is to stay poised and make everyone else around me successful. I’ve been waiting for this.”
So has Briles, who considers Petty a player with the ideal temperament to handle Thursday’s biggest spotlight in Baylor football history.
“He’s a borderline perfectionist, which is good at that position,” Briles said. “Bryce wants to do everything right all the time, at a very high level. He’s also very calm and very poised. That’s good because there is a lot of mayhem going on at that position, at a high rate of speed.”
The Oklahoma defense, rest assured, will create more havoc than any opponent Baylor has faced thus far. Until Thursday night, no one truly will know if Petty is up to the challenge. Not Petty. Not Briles. Not anyone else on the Baylor sideline.
But Briles offered a vote of confidence for his first-year starter, who was selected Monday as one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.
“Right now, he’s playing as well as anybody in America at the QB position,” Briles said.
Petty also has won the trust of teammates on both sides of the ball.
Safety Ahmad Dixon said Petty “means a lot” to Bears defenders because of his leadership skills and upbeat demeanor. Receiver Tevin Reese described Petty as “a really happy guy” whose optimism is contagious. Offensive guard Cyril Richardson said the key to Petty’s success comes from “being a guy who won’t give up” and will not allow teammates to do so, either.
“He’s a person who’s a perfectionist. Anything he sees wrong, he’s going to make it right where it needs to be,” Richardson said. “He’s on himself all the time. If he has any feedback for the line, we’re going to listen. I’ve always believed in Bryce.”
So has Briles, who hopes his quarterback’s calm demeanor will carry the day in Thursday’s biggest football game in Baylor history.