TAMPA – For a moment Saturday night, USF fans saw the season flash before their eyes.
The entire stadium was given a scare as Matt Grothe lay injured on the ground early in the second quarter, the look of a seriously hurt player on his face.
Too often starting quarterbacks suffer season-ending injuries. Luckily for the Bulls, Grothe returned to the game shortly after being helped off the field.
The one short drive by Pat Julmiste should be a reminder: If Grothe ever does go down for good, so will the Bulls.
In came Julmiste – a senior with 24 career starts who has been quickly forgotten. Seeing his first playing time since the first game of the season, Julmiste helped solidify Grothe’s starting job.
After Grothe ran for a first down before injuring his foot, Julmiste took over, throwing an incomplete pass, nearly giving up a fumble and leading the Bulls on a three-and-out drive.
That about sums up Grothe’s importance to USF’s offense. Not only has Grothe become the best freshman quarterback in the nation, he has been the Andre Hall of 2006.
Without Hall last season, USF would still be looking for its first bowl appearance. Without Grothe this year, the Bulls would be struggling to stay above .500.
Since his first series off the bench against McNeese State, Grothe has given USF fans a reason to believe, accounting for 1,652 of the Bulls’ 2,239 yards.
USF finally had a running back rush for at least 100 yards in the 38-16 win against Connecticut – the first since Hall did it six times last season. But before Ben Williams rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown Saturday, Grothe was the top rusher in four of the first five games.
After the game, several players and coach Jim Leavitt said they have faith in Julmiste should Grothe ever suffer a season-ending injury.
“I always said that I feel like we have four great quarterbacks,” wide receiver Amarri Jackson said. “I can’t really say that we were real worried. We were ready to get one of the guys in and get him warmed up.”
Of course Julmiste’s teammates will back him all the way. And they should.
But Leavitt didn’t replace a senior with three seasons of experience with a freshman with no playing time since high school for no reason.
Grothe’s performance after returning to the field – two rushing touchdowns and a touchdown pass – was a statement about his role on the team.
Possibly the most exciting thing about Grothe is that he still has three more seasons of eligibility.
The Bulls may find themselves fighting for a fourth-place finish in the Big East this season. But if Grothe can stay healthy throughout his career, USF has a legitimate chance of finishing in the top three of the conference in the years to come.
If Grothe can’t stay healthy, USF fans may have to get used to settling for fourth- or fifth-place finishes and no-name bowls.