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Grothe to the rescue

The Bulls trail late in the third quarter before pulling away.

Published September 3, 2006

TAMPA - At the precise moment the kid became somebody special, his team was in the middle of looking like nothing at all.

At the time, the USF Bulls were slopping it up all over the field. Every play seemed to be another example of how a football team can get in its own way, and every series seemed to be a few more missteps toward embarrassment.

Then came Matt Grothe, rescue ranger.

And really, what's so bad about a quarterback controversy?

Frankly, a quarterback controversy is swell. It's terrific. And around South Florida, it's welcome, because if there is a controversy, perhaps there is finally a quarterback.

The words "about" and "time" come to mind.

Grothe, a redshirt freshman, de-odorized a stadium Saturday night, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another to lead USF to a 41-10 comeback victory over McNeese State. If applications are being accepted for the position - and really, why wouldn't they be? - it is hard not to be impressed with his audition.

With every series, Grothe played a little better. With every snap, he convinced someone else he was in the huddle for the long-term. He won the game. He won the crowd. To be any more popular, he would have to change his last name to "Gradkowski."

Grothe's performance changed everything. Until he took charge, the Bulls' opening statement was a question: If a team struggles so badly against Big 'Neese, how is it going to stand up in the Big East?

For a long time, USF was laying a McMuffin against McNeese, all right. It fumbled. It stumbled. It trailed 10-7 well into nervous time.

None of it mattered because of Grothe, who played with a rare spark. He threw for two touchdowns; USF had thrown for only eight in each of the past two seasons. He hit passes of 47 and 64 yards - both would be among USF's longest five plays a year ago.

Not bad for an afterthought, was it? Around USF, Grothe had become lost in the conversation about Pat Julmiste, quarterback of the present, and Carlton Hill, generally regarded as the quarterback of the future before he became Booted Hill. Even Grothe admitted he felt like the forgotten quarterback.

"Yeah, sometimes I did," Grothe said. "You hear it from everybody over and over and over, and it gets to you. On TV. In the newspapers. It was Carlton this and Carlton that and that and that and that."

Grothe has a dose and a half of confidence, however; he'll tell you he always believed. Against McNeese, it showed. In the second half, when he hit all six of his passes for 154 yards, he seemed firmly in control.

Just a guess: he's going to be very popular. Going into the game, USF fans weren't sure which bothered them most: that Andre Hall wasn't back or that Julmiste was. Perhaps that explains why Grothe looked like love at first sight.

Sometimes, critics have been hard on Julmiste (rhymes with Just Missed). Still, after three seasons, stardom seems a little much to ask of him. There was a reason the Bulls were the 107th-ranked passing attack in the nation last year. Yeah, yeah. Bulls coach Jim Leavitt is fond of pointing out that USF was a running team. But the problem wasn't in how often USF threw the ball; it was how poorly. If nothing else, Grothe provided a little hope that will change.

Grothe entered the game early in the second quarter after Julmiste was injured. "Look who's here," he said to his teammates.

Other than a 1-yard touchdown run, however, Grothe didn't do much in the first half. He looked like a kid trying on college football to see if it fit around his shoulders. He beat himself up a little over that at halftime, he admitted.

In the second half, however, his poise began to show. He hit all six of his passes for 154 yards and two scores. He threw where he was supposed to throw. He ran when he should run.

Okay, okay. This was McNeese State, the scourge of the Southland Conference. And playing well against McNeese isn't the same as playing well against Louisville and Pitt and West Virginia. He's still a stranger to college football. Use all the qualifiers you want.

Then think of it like this. No one should apologize for playing well. The Bulls were ripe to be upset Saturday night, and Grothe didn't let it happen. He needs ripening, but if first impressions mean anything, there is something there.

And, really, is there anything better you can say about the Bulls offense than this?

Finally, it has Grothe potential.

[Last modified September 3, 2006, 01:55:02]

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