With 7:39 minutes left in the first quarter of the Bulls’ game against Central Florida on Saturday, Bulls’ quarterback Matt Grothe was frustrated.
USF (6-0, 1-0 BIG EAST) had scored three points on two mediocre drives and, on consecutive plays, Grothe had thrown two perfect touchdown passes – which fell through his receivers’ hands.
Then the playmaking quarterback did what he does best: he made things happen.
On a 3rd and 10 from UCF’s 38-yard line, Grothe dropped back to pass, ran 14 yards backward while avoiding two defenders, then – approaching the line of scrimmage at full speed – threw a perfect strike to receiver Taurus Johnson 34 yards down the field. The pass set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Mike Ford on the next play.
“He’s the magic man,” center Nick Capogna said of Grothe. “Now you see him, now you don’t.”
The Knights’ defenders probably saw Matt Grothe on Saturday, but they couldn’t stop him. In only three quarters of play, the sophomore accounted for 312 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in the Bulls’ 64-12 rout of UCF (3-3, 1-1 C-USA).
Grothe, who became the second quarterback in USF history (after Marquel Blackwell) to have consecutive 100-yard rushing days, ran for two touchdowns in the game – both of which included several tackles broken by the quarterback.
“He broke a lot of tackles today and I thought that was impressive,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “They had people in position to make plays. They just didn’t make the plays.”
Grothe had an average of 6.3 yards-per-carry Saturday, and his 100 rushing yards were 45 more than Knights’ running back Kevin Smith, who went into Saturday’s game as the nation’s leader in rushing.
When the reigning Big East Rookie of the Year wasn’t running with the ball, he was using his legs to open things up for his receivers.
“I know when I scramble out people are expecting me to run,” Grothe said. “That opens up the receivers down the field.”
Many of Grothe’s completions, including Johnson’s 34-yard reception in the first quarter, came after escaping the rush which, according to passing game coordinator Mike Canales, is one of the sophomore’s most dangerous traits.
“He’s so elusive,” Canales said. “Many people don’t realize how elusive he is. That’s what he does well. He keeps his eyes downfield and allows our offense to go down the field. When a play breaks down, he’ll make something happen.”
Grothe completed passes to seven different receivers against UCF. The sophomore’s favorite target was Taurus Johnson. The junior, who had a game-high 6 receptions for 83 yards and two touchdowns, knows the advantage of having such a talented, dual-threat quarterback.
“Matt can do everything,” Johnson said. “People don’t know what he’s going to do. Matt is a great quarterback.”
When he was relieved by backup Grant Gregory in the third quarter, Grothe had 212 passing yards and had thrown touchdowns to both Johnson and tight end Cedric Hill.
While Grothe’s passing and running abilities were the quarterback’s most visible assets Saturday, the intangibles might have had more of an effect than anything else.
After a week of rivalry talk between the teams and an insulting visit by a member of the Orlando media, Grothe’s greatest strengths during the game were the desire to prove something and the confidence that comes with getting a team off to the best start in University history.
“With all the talking they did and the Orlando guy coming over into our place – I hope they liked what happened,” Grothe said. “Because we weren’t even trying to run up the score. We were just that much better than them.”