LAWRENCE — For a guy who has only started 15 college games, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin already has a distinguished aura about him.
Maybe it's the name. Kansas coach Turner Gill went out of his way this week to refer to Griffin as Robert Griffin III, making the 20-year-old sound almost regal.
Maybe it's the pedigree. Griffin was born in Japan, the product of a military family. He graduated seventh in his senior class in Copperas Cove, Texas, and is majoring in political science. He hopes to one day attend law school.
Or maybe it's the talent — the unique ability that has KU's defensive players whispering about Griffin moonlighting as a world-class hurdler in his spare time.
"He's very fast," KU linebacker Steven Johnson said. "One of my teammates just notified me that in high school he was a 400-meter hurdler and won state."
Johnson's teammate wasn't entirely accurate — Griffin set state records in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles in high school and finished third in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Championships — but the point was more that Griffin can flat out fly.
And to have any chance at slowing down Griffin and Baylor coach Art Briles' spread offense on Saturday in Waco, the Jayhawks will have to play faster than they have all season. The only other time KU faced a mobile quarterback in a spread look was against Southern Mississippi, and Golden Eagles quarterback Austin Davis burned Kansas with nine carries for 61 yards.
Thing is, Davis isn't even in the same galaxy athletically as Griffin.
"Against Southern Miss, we let the quarterback scamper out there three times for about 10-yard gains," KU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said. "This week, that 10-yard gain is gonna turn into a 30- or 40-yard gain. We can't let that happen."
What makes that assignment so tough is that Griffin has shown himself to be a skilled passer. Griffin has completed 59 percent of his passes for 971 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception in leading the Bears to a 3-1 start. He's surrounded by talent at the skill positions that is comparable to that of Southern Miss, according to Torbush.
Gill pointed out that the Jayhawks are ranked fifth nationally in pass defense at 128.5 yards per game. Of course, KU has not played against a pass-happy offense yet this season (Southern Miss opted for the run more often and rushed for 202 yards).
"I feel as though we've got a lot more to prove," Johnson said. "We've played four predominantly run teams. Georgia Tech, they threw the ball a couple times. We've got a lot of room to improve in the passing game, and we've been doing that every week."
Briles will try to set Griffin up in one-on-one situations in the open field. The Bears will run zone-read plays (Griffin will read the defensive end's movement and either keep it or hand to a running back), option plays and designed quarterback runs.
"Contain is gonna be the biggest thing," Gill said. "And tackling. When we have the opportunity to tackle him, we gotta make sure we do that."
Gill said KU's tackling thus far has been up and down. Johnson admitted that the linebackers, while leading the team in tackles, have also missed the most.
Johnson was given a scenario for Saturday: It's him and Griffin in the open field, and if Johnson doesn't make the play, Griffin's gone. How do you tackle him?
"In those situations, you just gotta break down, take great angles and not give them a cutback lane," Johnson said. "Just playing with great execution, being able to play low, with bent knees. You should