It didn’t take long for Matt Grothe to get in a rhythm Saturday night en route to a 41-10 victory over North Carolina State. The junior quarterback led the USF offense to touchdowns on its first three drives and took pressure off a defensive unit missing two starters due to injury.
“We had a good game plan going into the game,” Grothe said at Monday’s press luncheon. “We were moving the ball and executing well. I think it helped the defense out.”
Grothe has been helping the defense quite a bit this year.
The Lakeland native has thrown two interceptions and eight touchdowns in his last 144 pass attempts. Comparatively, Grothe threw 14 interceptions and 14 touchdowns last season. He attributes most of this change to the team’s growth this past year.
“We’ve been young in the past,” he said. “We have more maturity now, and that helps a lot. We are playing good football.”
Grothe has completed 66 percent of his passes this year and has a passing efficiency of slightly more than 150. He will need to be efficient against a Pittsburgh defense that has given up just 188.2 passing yards on average, and has held opposing quarterbacks to a passing efficiency of 118.7.
Grothe said the offensive line has been a huge factor in his success this year.
“They’ve been outstanding. They’re giving me time to throw and opening up holes in the running game,” he said. “They are only getting better and better each week.”
Short Turn Around
There isn’t much time for the Bulls to soak in Saturday night’s win given Thursday’s upcoming game. USF was back on the practice field Sunday in preparation for its conference opener against Pittsburgh.
“I love to play football,” senior defensive end Jarriett Buie said. “So if we have to come in and get extra work, it’s no problem for me. The team handled practice really well (Sunday), and we are excited for the game.”
Defensive backs coach Troy Douglas said the team knows conference games mean more to the players than others.
“The players understand that there is a different buzz in the room,” he said. “We are going to have to step our game up even more.”
Finding a Balance
USF’s rushing defense is ranked 4th in the country, giving up less than 59 yards rushing per game, but N.C. State was able to rack up 239 passing yards in nine competitions. Douglas said that having an emphasis in stopping the run has hurt the secondary in defending big plays.
“Our No. 1 goal every week is to stop the run game,” he said. “If we have to add as many defensive backs to stop the run game, then we will. When you do that, you are vulnerable to play-action passing and big plays. You leave players out on an island sometimes.”
Pittsburgh’s running back duo may provide the toughest challenge the Bulls have faced all year in stopping the run. Sophomore LeSean McCoy is on the Doak Walker Award Watch List. The Doak Walker Award is given to the nation’s top running back each year. Senior LaRod Stephens-Howling contributed for 93 yards total offense and scored two touchdowns in a 34-24 win against Syracuse on Saturday.
“They’ve got two really good running backs,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “Both bring a different type of pace. One is quick, and one is a little more physical. They used them extremely well against Syracuse. It’s going to be a challenge for our defense.”