Quarterback Matt Grothe capped another come-from-behind victory as he scrambled 3 yards to clinch a 7-6 win for the White Team during Saturday’s Spring Game at Raymond James Stadium.
While Grothe’s production is something the Bulls have come to expect, freshman running back Mike Ford proved why he was among the top recruits in the county by scoring the lone touchdown for the Green Team on a 4-yard run.
Ford finished the game with eight carries for 55 yards, including a 26-yard run where he lowered his shoulder and drove safety Louis Gachette off the field for an additional gain.
“I dropped the shoulder because (Gachette) is a good hitter. … I was just pumped up at the time, and I had a good run,” Ford said. “Looking back, (the game) went pretty well. … I’m really starting to catch on right now.”
As a senior at Sarasota, Ford rushed for a state-record 2,836 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2004. Originally signed by Alabama, Ford instead enrolled in Hargrave Military Academy to focus on academics.
After waiting more than a year and a half, Ford saw his first collegiate action Saturday when he rushed for no gain early in the second quarter. It was his lone carry before receiving another opportunity early in the fourth quarter.
“Everyone was going to play, so I just had to be patient and wait to get my turn,” Ford said. “Just like I had to wait to get into school, I had to wait to get on the field. After sitting out a year and a half, it’s been a struggle. I had to (learn) how to drop my shoulder and get my steps and cuts back. But I have it back.”
One of the primary goals for coach Jim Leavitt is to establish a consistent running game. So Ford’s performance Saturday and the days leading up to the game hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He’s had a real good last two weeks, and I think he’s starting to run with more confidence,” Leavitt said. “You saw what could happen if the lights turned on. He’s only going to get better. If he grabs a hold … he could be that good. There are signs there that show that.”
Grothe completed 18 of 34 passes for 179 yards and a rushing touchdown. The reigning Big East Conference Freshman of the Year led the Bulls in rushing yards (622), attempts (178), average yards per game (47.8) and touchdowns (9).
The presence of Ford, Ricky Ponton, Benjamin Williams and Moise Plancher should allow Grothe some relief when leading the rushing attack. The reduced number of carries should also help alleviate the leg and foot injuries Grothe suffered last year.
Still recovering from a hairline fracture in his right leg suffered during the Papajohns.com Bowl, Grothe showed no ill effects from the injury despite being sacked eight times.
“Everyone talks about Grothe being banged up – he didn’t look all that banged up tonight, did he?” Leavitt said. “He would have gotten away from a lot of those (sacks), but I told (the referees) to blow the whistle.”
Both Grothe and backup quarterback Grant Gregory were “tackled” when it appeared the defensive player would have been able to wrap them up to prevent injury.
Gregory led the Green Team going 14-of-26 for 154 yards and two interceptions while establishing himself as the primary backup to Grothe.
Wide receiver Colby Erskin may fill the void left by Ean Randolph as the Bulls punt returner and playmaker.
Gregory completed a pass to Carlton Mitchell, who pitched it to Erskin. The sophomore then reversed field, eluded three tackles and reversed again before being tackled after a 9-yard gain.
The lone setback for USF was losing starting left guard Matt Huners to a knee injury. The Bulls have four months for Huners to recover or to establish another left guard before the season opener on Sept. 1 against Elon.