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Sentinel: Bulls QB Matt Grothe ready to follow up USF's star-crossed season


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Bulls QB Matt Grothe ready to follow up USF's star-crossed season

By CHRIS HARRY | SENTINEL STAFF WRITER

    August 22, 2008

TAMPA — The South Florida Bulls were several hours removed from embarrassing Interstate-4 rival UCF in a 64-12 pummeling that was about as competitive as a 20-second ultimate fighting bout.

As the ESPN talking heads were sorting out the events of the day, the Bulls were the talk of the college football nation. From unranked and virtually unheard-of when the season started, USF had ascended to the Top 10 and by virtue of the blowout was headed toward the top of the polls and smack in the middle of Bowl Championship Series conversations.

"It was crazy," quarterback Matt Grothe said. "Everything just happened so fast."

Just as insane: Grothe, who threw for two touchdowns and rushed for 100 yards and another two scores against the befuddled Knights, was seeing his name on midseason Heisman Trophy Watch lists.

Seriously, what team — what player — could have dealt with so much so soon?

What occurred from there was almost predictable.

Loss. Loss. Loss.

"I don't really think people can understand what we went through," Grothe said. "And I don't think we handled it any differently than anybody else would have."

From fairy tale to fantasy, USF's 2007 season ended with a 9-4 record that proved to be a far more accurate assessment than the lofty rankings that followed the overtime road upset of Auburn and historic nationally televised victory over fifth-ranked West Virginia at sold-out Raymond James Stadium that rocketed the Bulls to No. 2.

Had USF prevailed in any of those three midseason defeats — at Rutgers, at Connecticut or home against Cincinnati — the Bulls would have won the Big East Conference and played in their program's first BCS bowl. They settled for the Sun Bowl, where the Bulls were thrashed 56-21 by Oregon.

Grothe and his teammates got a taste of the big time last fall; the good and the bad. The '08 season will be about applying all the lessons they learned.

It starts with Grothe, a junior and preseason All-Big East candidate.

"He's a playmaker. He gets out of jams," said USF Coach Jim Leavitt, whose team will debut ranked 21st in the Associated Press poll. "But he's also got to understand about protecting the football. You hope that he'll do a good job of making those kinds of decisions."

Grothe made some great decisions last year. Some horrible ones, too.

That's been the book on the junior out of Lakeland Lake Gibson — where he took his team to back-to-back state-championship berths (both losses to Seffner Armwood) — since he won the starting job as a freshman in '06.

USF is a combined 18-8 the last two seasons. In victories, Grothe threw 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. In losses, he threw four touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

The Bulls went 9-0 when he didn't throw an interception.

"Taking care of the ball will be our No. 1 priority this season," passing game coordinator Greg Gregory said.

The Bulls, however, want to get there without clamping down on the creativity of their quarterback. In addition to passing for 2,670 yards last season, Grothe also led the Bulls in rushing with 872 yards and 10 touchdowns. Only two other QBs in the nation had 2,500 yards and 800 rushing yards; one plays in Gainesville.

The rushing numbers are a testament to his agility, which Grothe used on countless occasions to escape trouble in the pocket. Unfortunately, in doing so he sometimes tossed ill-advised passes downfield (like a school-record 382 passing yards, but also four interceptions against Cincinnati); other times he held the ball too long (seven sacks when the team was 6-0 and ranked No. 2 at Rutgers).

USF's passing game puts a lot of responsibility on the quarterback. Too much, sometimes. Against Rutgers, a couple of routine screen passes would have helped against a wicked pass rush, but instead the offense turned to Grothe to make plays; good and bad.

The '08 version of Grothe reported for two-a-days about 20 pounds lighter than where he finished the season. He's still only 6 feet tall, but at a leaner 200 pounds he'll be even quicker and faster than a season ago.

And also vows to be smarter with the football.

"We went through everything — ups and downs, highs and lows — so there's nothing we're not prepared for," Grothe said.

"I'm going to expect everything this year, but at the same time I'm not going to worry about what everybody says. If they say, 'Hey, they're No. 2,' we have to stay there this time."

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Good article, but USF is #19 in the AP poll. USF is ranked #21 in the coaches' poll.

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My greatest hope for him this year is that he learns to throw the ball away when there is nothing or too much pressure.  That is one of the main reasons USF lost those three games.

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USF's passing game puts a lot of responsibility on the quarterback. Too much, sometimes. Against Rutgers, a couple of routine screen passes would have helped against a wicked pass rush, but instead the offense turned to Grothe to make plays; good and bad.

This may be the most profound thing ever printed in the sentinel. I don't want to turn this into a GGsr bash, but I think the coaches do put too much pressure on MG, and I think GGsr just expected Grothe to make a big play against RU. With Walker out, it wasn't like MG got the ball and stood there for 5 seconds, then went down, he had about 2 seconds to make a play. There were times he held on too long last season, but I don't think RU is a good example of that. I remember screaming at the TV for us to run some quick slants or shorter pass routes so that he didn't need a lot of time...part of it is on the receivers also, they have to recognize the blitz and cut their routes short and look for the ball.

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Grothe is smart with the ball, when he has an OL.  Lets hope those guys step up and help him this year.  No injuries please.

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If he can have a 5:1 TD to INT ratio, then we will be pretty much guaranteed to win the BE and a BCS game.

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Oh, BTW, it's on the front page of the sports section in the printed version.  It's in the lower right, but front page nevertheless.

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"In losses, he threw four touchdowns and 15 interceptions."  Yet people still want to believe he is not the reason we lost those games.  

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Bianchi was on the radio the other day.  He mentioned that he's been getting people asking why they don't have more coverage of USF.  He said it's tough to cover all of the state schools, especially with newspaper budget cuts and UCF obviously needs to be covered.  But he didn't seem to rule out the possiblity, either.

It was a pretty good interview, actually.  He talked about how controversial he is, and that's his job.  He says he's always amazed that the newspaper can rip a politician to shreds, and no one cares.  But write one negative line about any sports team, and some passionate fan will threaten your life.  He talked about his first job in Gainesville, when he took over for a retiring columnist that was a big time Gators homer.  In his first week on the job he picked the Gators to lose to Auburn.  He thought is was going to be his last week on the job, if he lived through the week.

Finally, I pulled this off his bio online.  He's got a couple of pretty good lines that explain where he's coming from:

If I write something that makes you mad, just remember this quote: "The job of the sports columnist is to watch the battle from the mountaintop and then ride down and bayonet the wounded." If I write something that's wrong, just remember this quote: "Doctors bury their mistakes, sports columnists print ours."

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