WACO, Texas (AP)—Riley Skinner goes through stretches where he looks as if he just can’t miss.
A pass tucked under a cornerback, another dropped over a linebacker, followed by a mid-range pass down the middle. All of it keeps No. 23 Wake Forest on the move.
Skinner was his uncannily accurate self again Thursday night, tossing three touchdown passes in 41-13 season-opening win over Baylor as the Demon Deacons played up to their first preseason ranking in school history.
“We were efficient,” Skinner said.
Skinner’s 72 percent completion rate led the nation last season and he coolly shredded the Bears, going 27 of 36 for 220 yards with a pair of touchdown passes to Chip Brinkman and another to Ben Wooster. He also earned his 19th career victory, a school record for a quarterback.
“The history here, that’s not too impressive of a record,” Skinner said. “Hopefully we can add on to that a little bit more.”
Baylor, trying to shake off 12 years of losing, hired coach Art Briles away from Houston to replace Guy Morriss. But Briles became just another victim of dubious Bears history, becoming the sixth of the last seven Baylor coaches to lose his first game.
Briles had built a struggling Houston program into a Conference USA champion. His Baylor debut seemed to generate more of a wait-and-see attitude than much of a buzz.
Only about 30,000 fans came to 50,000-seat Floyd Casey Stadium to watch it and many started leaving when Wake Forest took a 34-6 lead late in the third quarter.
“Certainly not the way we drew it up. The thing that’s really painful for me and the staff (is) you want to give people a reason to believe,” Briles said. “I feel like we let a lot of people down.”
The solid win solidifies the early season expectations for Wake Forest, which has clawed into the top ranks of the Atlantic Coast Conference under coach Jim Grobe.
The Demon Deacons forced five turnovers, turning three into touchdowns, and held Baylor to 250 total yards. Cornerback Alphonso Smith got his 15th career interception.
“I was proud of them. It would have been easy to come here and not be ready to play,” Grobe said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been this nervous about an opening game. We’ve always played well as the underdog but I was really concerned about having that Top 25 ranking coming in here.”
Skinner completed 12 of his first 13 passes to stake Wake Forest to a 17-0 lead early in the second. The Demon Deacons seemed to chew up just enough yards on every play to keep drives going. If they needed seven yards on third down, they got eight. If they needed one yard on fourth, they got four.
Briles, trying to find any kind of edge he could, had kept his starting quarterback a secret after a three-way battle in training camp. Miami transfer Kirby Freeman won the start but was ineffective. Smith’s interception set up Wake Forest’s second touchdown and Freeman was pulled for freshman Robert Griffin.
“Kirby’s been through some ups and downs. We felt like he deserved the opportunity and we gave it to him,” Briles said. “I thought (Griffin) provided a spark, which is what he has to do for us.”
Griffin, a better runner than passer at this point, put some life into the Bears by dancing and ducking along the sideline to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Jacoby Jones.
The lift wouldn’t last.
Ben Parks missed the extra point and Wake Forest, aided by a big penalty on a late hit on Skinner, drove to a 42-yard field goal by Sam Swank that made it 20-6 at halftime.
Baylor’s last chance to keep it close came at the start of the third when Wake Forest fumbled on the first play. A muffed handoff between Griffin and Jay Finley killed the Baylor drive after only one first down.
Another bad exchange between those two gave Wake Forest the ball on the Baylor 11 and Skinner connected with Brinkman on an 8-yard TD pass to make it 27-6. Skinner had all the time he needed in the pocket and checked through several options before finding Brinkman dragging across the middle of the end zone.
Griffin was 11-of-19 for 125 yards and ran for a touchdown.