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Bulls' Grothe wants memorable birthday


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Bulls' Grothe wants memorable birthday

Friday, September 07, 2007

By NEAL McCREADY

Sports Reporter

Matt Grothe's 21st birthday is Saturday.

Instead of blowing out candles or legally enjoying an adult beverage for the first time, however, the South Florida quarterback hopes to celebrate by spanking the Auburn Tigers.

"It would be kind of a nice birthday gift for me," Grothe said. "It's going to be real exciting, real fun."

Grothe and the Bulls have drawn some national attention in the past year or so thanks to some impressive wins in the Big East Conference. The Bulls want more respect, and to get it, they need a big win over a major foe from one of college football's more respected conferences.

They'll get that chance Saturday night at 8 when they travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium to face No. 17 Auburn in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN2.

"It's Auburn, the only team that beat the national champions, Florida," Grothe said.

"It's one of those games that you always dream about when you're a kid. Now I get the chance to see if we can go up there and put together a win."

Auburn (1-0), of course, has other ideas for the 6-foot, 213-pound sophomore from Lakeland, Fla. The Tigers will try to stop South Florida's potent running attack -- which got three touchdowns from former Alabama signee Mike Ford in Saturday's win over Elon -- and put pressure on Grothe and the Bulls' passing attack.

If that happens, USF is confident its quarterback can handle the heat. Last season, as a redshirt freshman, Grothe led the Bulls to a 9-4 record, including a 24-19 win at then-No. 7 West Virginia.

"I knew that he had the moxie to really be something special," South Florida coach Jim Leavitt told ESPN.com last month. "And I saw it during two-a-days. How he was going to do, I didn't know. I knew he was a competitor. I knew he was a good football player. I don't want to give him too many accolades yet."

Grothe completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,576 yards last season. He also led the Bulls in rushing with 622 yards and nine touchdowns.

Grothe is playing 20 pounds heavier this season, weight he gained while recuperating from a broken right fibula he suffered in USF's 24-7 win over East Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham last December.

He's stronger this season, and Leavitt wants him to be smarter, too. Last year, Grothe threw 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Ball security has been emphasized even more this fall.

"He tried to force too many things at times, because a number of times it works," Leavitt said in the ESPN.com article.

Against Elon, Grothe completed 22 of 39 attempts for 239 yards and a pair of touchdowns without an interception. For the most part, Grothe handed the football to Ford, former Alabama player Jamar Taylor and the Bulls' other running backs and watched them run.

"Mike Ford's a good football player," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We recruited him. He's going to be a force not just in the Big East and South Florida, but in college football. He's about 225 pounds, can run, he's strong. He's got good speed. I think he had one good run last week. He didn't play a whole lot."

"I'm sure they were just trying to get him ready for the games down the road. Mike Ford's a guy that we all noticed very quickly as a 10th- and 11th-grader and his senior year in high school. He's going to be one of the better players in the country the next few years."

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said the Bulls give a defense a lot to think about.

"They give you a lot of formations, a lot of shift, motion adjustments, the gun runs, the throwing game, the power-running games," he said. "They do just about everything. We've got to be prepared for it all."

Grothe knows the 85,000-plus fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium won't come bearing gifts for his birthday, but that's OK. He just wants to keep them quiet.

"Score early, make some big plays early and the crowd doesn't want to get into the game as much," Grothe said. "Normally when we practice well, we do well, so if we keep having good practices, we'll do well."

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Well, to attempt to make up for the 80,000+ Auburn fans... I will not have a voice Sunday.  Matt doesn't need to worry about Auburn fans bringing gifts... we can take care of our own.

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