"I enjoy it when the pressure is on," said Baker, who has passed for 1,082 yards and completed 60.5 percent of his passes this season. "Something clicks on inside and I think the whole team can feel it. I like being under the gun."
The "gun" will never seem larger than it will on Saturday. In an affair in which Temple is listed as a 30-point underdog, the Owls will travel to Knoxville and take on the powerful Tennessee Volunteers. While Tennessee (4-1-2) is ranked 11th and Temple would appear to be dwarfed in this spot, Berndt is an eternal optimist and believes that, where there is a will . . .
"There is a way," Berndt said. "No team is unbeatable. We have that attitude."
Temple football has been rejuvenated this season under Berndt. In part due to the heroics of Baker - whose presence Berndt contended "would have enabled us to win three or four football games last year" - the Owls have won three of their last four games and two in row since losing, 48-10, to Penn State. Explaining that Temple was "just trying too hard" against Penn State, Berndt said he thinks the Owls will be better prepared against Tennessee.
"We have been through it (against a prominent team) and that should help us," Berndt said. "We are healthy and our confidence has never been higher. Our attitude is, 'Let's go down to Knoxville and see what happens."
The Temple coach had high praise for Tennessee. While the Volunteers have been somewhat of a disappointment to coach Johnny Majors - who is still annoyed with Tennessee's 9-6 loss to Alabama - Berndt called his upcoming opponent "the most skilled team by far we have faced this season, and that includes Penn State." Citing Tennessee's terrific speed at wide receiver and the "overall size of the defense," Berndt said it will be essential for the Owls to keep the Volunteers from sprinting out to a quick lead.
"We have to prevent them from getting out of the blocks in the first quarter," Berndt said. "When teams have been able to do that against them, it turns out that (in the fourth quarter) Tennessee has a fight on their hands. We have to keep the pressure on them and not let them steamroll us."
Majors discounted the possibility that Tennessee will take Temple lightly. ''We do not have a team of magna cum laudes," he said, "but we are definitely not dumb." Majors praised Temple as having "the best designed offense" that Tennesse has seen this year. He also had special praise for Baker.
"Their offense is organized, imaginative and disciplined," Majors said. ''And their quarterback is excellent. He has shown leadership."
Berndt shared that enthusiasm for Baker.
"He is not particuarly big, he is not particuarly fast and he is not particuarly strong, but I would not trade him for anyone," Berndt said. ''There is just something special about some people, and he has it."
While an upset victory over Tennessee would be an immense boost to Temple's rebuilding program, it also would be of special significance to Baker. His Temple career has been difficult at times. Besides losing his junior season to injury - and thus the opportunity to establish some school records he had hoped to set - he also had to grasp a new offensive system when Berndt replaced Bruce Arians after the 1988 season.
"I had hoped to leave here the all-time leading passer at Temple but I will be stopped short of that goal," Baker said. "I have had an up-and-down career here, but things seem to be coming along well now."
Optimistic that Temple has the personnel to upset Tennessee, Baker said that in looking at films of the Volunteers, he spotted some potential areas to exploit.
"Their defense is so aggressive that sometimes it appears as if they have lapses where where no one is sure what his teammate is doing," Baker said. ''We just have to keep attacking them with short passes and our running game. Tennessee is a great team but we are on a roll."