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2006: Number 8 Will Take It From Here


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USF
 

2006: Number 8 Will Take It From Here

July 08, 2016
By  USF
 

On Sept. 3, the Bulls will start their 20th season of football.  This summer we’ll take a look back at 20 moments, one for each season, including the “practice but no games” year of 1996.  These may not be the biggest moments in USF history; they may not even be moments where things went right for the Bulls.  But they help define the program, remind us where the time has gone, and show how our Bulls have progressed as season 20 gets closer and closer.

20 Seasons, 20 Memories: 11th Edition (2006)

Story Archive

First Edition (1996)

Second Edition (1997)

Third Edition (1998)

Fourth Edition (1999)

Fifth Edition (2000)

Sixth Edition (2001)

Seventh Edition (2002)

Eighth Edition (2003)

Ninth Edition (2004)

10th Edition (2005)

 

By JIM LOUK

Voice of the Bulls

TAMPA, JULY 8, 2016 – Sept. 9, 2006 isn’t a particularly memorable day in USF Football history, but it almost was, in a bad way.  Fortunately, some late-game heroics by a freshman quarterback making his first start saved us.

Coming off the first bowl game the year before, a lot was expected of the 2006 Bulls. Week 1 featured a win over McNeese State by a comfortable 41-10 margin, but the final score didn’t tell the whole story. The Bulls struggled quite a bit; trailing at the half and leading only 14-10 after three quarters. It took a 27-point fourth quarter to clinch it for the Bulls as freshman Matt Grothe came off the bench to run for a touchdown and throw for two. Soon afterward we got the notice; Grothe would start for the first time against Florida International the next Saturday.

Even though it was only Week 2, it was a sensible time to make the change. Florida International’s program was only 5 years old, and its all-time record was 15-30. FIU had just joined the Sun Belt Conference a year earlier, and had lost a 7-6 heartbreaker to Middle Tennessee to start the season.

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An unpleasant 2006 season was ahead for FIU. When the Panthers ended they’d be 0-12 and an ugly on-the-field incident with Miami would bring multiple suspensions. This game against USF would mark the Panthers’ second of 23 consecutive losses; they wouldn’t win again until Dec. 1, 2007. 

But of course we didn’t know that then. We just knew the USF quarterback situation needed to be settled, and on this day Grothe would have a chance to win the job on a more permanent basis.

It would be a nice story to write if we could say the Bulls overmatched the Panthers and Grothe ran up big numbers right from the start, but it didn’t work out that way.

Not even close.

FIU scored first, on an 82-yard punt return.  A missed extra point kept the score at 6-0.

The Bulls came back on a similar play. Ean Randolph, who had a short but spectacular USF career primarily on special teams, had a punt return score of his own for 76 yards and when the Bulls made the extra point, they took a 7-6 lead. It was USF’s first punt return for a touchdown in four years.

Then things really went south. FIU got a pick-six and a short touchdown run, and we looked at the scoreboard in disbelief as we went to the half.

Florida International 20, USF 7.

There was a lot of time left, but you just knew it wasn’t going to be easy from here.

Taurus Johnson got the Bulls back to within 20-14 with a third quarter touchdown run, setting up a critical moment at the end of the quarter.

With the ball on the USF 20, FIU had a chance to go up two scores. After thinking about it through the quarter break, the Panthers decided to pass up a field goal attempt.  Quarterback Josh Padrick ran on fourth down, and was stopped by Ben Moffitt. The Bulls got the ball back, still down by 6.

But the Bulls' offense still wasn’t clicking. The next three times USF had the ball, it punted twice and was stopped on fourth down once. After the Bulls turned it over on downs, FIU took over at its 30 with only 3:46 to play.  Even the most faithful of Bulls fans could feel a big upset in the works. As one season ticket member told me later “This really, really felt like a loss.”

Very quickly though, the narrative changed. Ben Moffitt forced a fumble, Richard Clebert recovered it, and the Bulls could see a way out.

After an incomplete pass to S.J. Green, Grothe dropped back and found Johnson for a 29-yard score. Mike Benzer kicked the extra point and it was 21-20 Bulls.

The Bulls’ defense got one more stop and USF escaped with win. Grothe’s numbers weren’t great; 15 of 28, one touchdown, two interceptions. What we took note of was his complete disinterest in panicking when everything was going wrong. With the Bulls on the ropes, he was the coolest cat out there. It was a sign of things to come. 

The 2006 season was a success. The Bulls finished the season 9-4, and played in another bowl game.

Sure, the quarterbacks get too much credit for winning and too much blame for losing. In reality, the USF defense rescued this game as much as Grothe did. But the freshman found a way to win, and after this narrowest of escapes, not many of us had to wonder who’d be the starting quarterback against UCF the following week.

 

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