STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Maybe it was too soon. Perhaps the 99,235 fans – the largest to ever see the Bulls play a game – got to him.
But when Courtney Denson got the call on Saturday afternoon, he dropped the ball, losing it completely in the process, only to have the fumble returned for a 16-yard touchdown by senior cornerback Alan Zemaitis.
Three series into the game for USF and Denson was back to backup, and returning junior Pat Julmiste was back behind center.
“Yeah, I’ll be sticking with Pat now,” coach Jim Leavitt said after Saturday’s 23-13 loss at Penn State. “He’s certainly earned it.”
Earning it may be an understatement for Julmiste, who entered after the train wreck with Denson at the helm, only to throw for 200 yards, 21 completions on 35 attempts – many of which were dropped passes – and two touchdowns, both to Johnny Peyton.
The sophomore receiver, who led the Bulls in receiving last season with 469 yards, also led all wide outs Saturday with 39 yards.
“(Offensive coordinator) Rod (Smith) and I, we thought about starting Pat (Friday) night,” Leavitt said. “I’m not down on Courtney though either, and I want to get Carlton (Hill) in there (at quarterback), and I’m disappointed I didn’t get that done.”
Denson, who transferred from Auburn last season after Tommy Tuberville and other coaches wanted him to switch to cornerback, started his collegiate game as quarterback at Beaver Stadium, looking out-of-rhythm and anxious behind the offensive line.
And after the game, he appeared to be on the edge of depression.
“I’m frustrated. I feel like I want to jump off a building,” Denson said. “I just struggled today, man. I just got to try to put it past me and move on. I mean, nothing went right for me.
“Nobody got down on me. Everyone was supportive. I got down on myself.”
Nobody included Smith, who is keeping his sophomore quarterback at arm’s length for whatever reason may arise.
“I’m not down on Courtney Denson at all,” Smith said. “He’s got to learn to take care of the football and he knows that. We had to go with a change, and Pat came in and gave us a spark. He has the experience and he had the good day. I’m not down on Courtney Denson at all, because we are going to need both those quarterbacks all season long.
“It might have been first-time jitters, I don’t know. I told him, I’m not down on him. I’m – we’re going to need him.”
Leavitt, who lost his fourth season opener in the program’s nine-year history, agrees: Denson won’t be too far behind Julmiste.
“Courtney can still do some good things, but he hasn’t played football in a long time. He can do OK,” Leavitt said.