The week leading up to USF’s season opener against McNeese State, coach Jim Leavitt kept quiet about who the starting quarterback would be. This week, however, Leavitt was swift in his decision and named redshirt freshman Matt Grothe the starter just two days after an impressive off-the-bench performance.
Although senior Pat Julmiste got the start Saturday, Leavitt said after the 41-10 victory over the Cowboys he intended on giving Grothe the second half of the game to show what he could do.
But after Julmiste injured his thigh on an 18-yard run early in the second quarter, Grothe’s college debut came earlier than expected. With the ball deep in McNeese State’s territory, Grothe didn’t waste any time, quickly connecting on a 6-yard pass to Amp Hill. He then capped off the drive with 14 rushing yards, including a 1-yard quarterback keeper for the touchdown.
“I about broke down in tears because I had been waiting all my life to play in a college football game,” Grothe said about his first collegiate touchdown. “And when I finally get my first touchdown, I didn’t think I was going to get as emotional as I did.”
The first-year quarterback struggled on the Bulls’ next possession, completing just one of four passes as USF went into the locker room at halftime trailing 10-7. After the break, Grothe connected with Cedric Hill on a 64-yard pass, but two plays later the young quarterback gave up a fumble.
“It’s kind of ironic,” Grothe said. “It seemed like we would drive and drive and drive, and a mistake would happen. After that fumble, we came over to the sideline and I told them, ‘Let’s just take it one play at a time; don’t worry about messing up, just go out there and do what we know we can do.'”
After his speech on the sideline, everything seemed to come together for Grothe and the offense. On USF’s next two drives, Grothe hooked up with Marcus Edwards and Ean Randolph, respectively, for touchdowns.
“The first one really psyched me up just because of the fact that we took the lead off that one, and I knew that we needed some momentum,” Grothe said about his 47-yard pass to Edwards that gave USF the lead.
Edwards said he wasn’t surprised by the young quarterback’s composure.
“It’s just like practice,” he said. “He’s comfortable in practice. I wasn’t surprised the way he came out and played.”
After the game, Grothe, who completed 9-of-13 passes for 171 yards, admitted he did better than expected but said he has to do better to win games.
“You’re going to always have that thought, ‘You’re going to do this and you’re going to do that,’ but when reality hits in, you’re like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to really be that good,'” Grothe said.
“When I came out there and scored the rushing touchdown and then those two passes, I’m proud of myself; I’m proud of my team. We’ve worked so hard to get to this season the last month or two.”
Even after the Bulls ran away with the game, reaching the end zone in their final five possessions, reality hadn’t set in for Grothe that he played so well.
“Not until the very last snap of the game or when I got told that I was done for the night,” Grothe said about realizing what he had done. “I was just sitting there thinking ‘Wow, I did better than I actually thought I was going to do.'”