South Florida’s Matt Grothe vs. Kansas’ Todd Reesing. Outlets such as ESPN billed Friday night’s game as a showdown between two junior quarterbacks trying to lead upstart programs to the next level of competitiveness.
The quarterback duel didn’t disappoint the 58,755 fans at Raymond James Stadium — the third-largest crowd in USF history.
Grothe and Reesing threw for more than 700 yards and scored a total of seven touchdowns in No. 12 USF’s 37-34 win over No. 19 Kansas.
“Matt had a great game,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said. “He threw the ball well, and he just kept making the throws.”
It was what Grothe didn’t do and what Reesing did at the worst possible moment — that allowed Bulls freshman kicker Maikon Bonani to make the biggest field goal attempt of his young career — turn the ball over.
“(Grothe’s) playing great,” USF offensive coordinator Greg Gregory said. “I told people before that dropping the weight made him quicker. He’s also committed to not turning the ball over.”
Grothe threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns. He added a rushing touchdown on a 28-yard run in the second quarter. Reesing countered with 373 yards and three touchdowns. He also had a four-yard touchdown run.
After leading Kansas to an early 20-3 lead, Reesing looked like a player poised to move up in the national spotlight.
Grothe, however, led USF to 31 unanswered points and got the crowd back into the game after a 22-yard touchdown pass to Taurus Johnson. The play was originally ruled an incompletion, as Johnson was on his back juggling the ball and sliding through the end zone.
“Once I saw the replay I knew it would get overturned,” Grothe said. “I knew we tied the game up and that was huge.”
The play was reviewed and, as soon as the replay was shown on the giant screen, Grothe jumped up and down and got the 12,501 students in the section screaming as the game became tied at 20.
“He did a great job keeping his composure,” senior wide receiver Taurus Johnson said. “He was a real leader out there today. He was great.”
USF wide receivers coach Mike Canales said the play was one Grothe and Johnson like to practice.
“We came out and sparked ourselves,” Canales said. “That throw was one that Grothe loves to throw, and he was excited to throw and it turned out to be a huge play for us.”
The game began to turn in USF’s favor in the third quarter. The Bulls outgained Kansas 213-9 in total yardage. A fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Grothe to sophomore receiver A.J. Love gave USF a 34-20 lead with around 11 minutes left.
Reesing, however, did not go down without a fight. He led Kansas to two late touchdowns and a tie game. He also had an opportunity to seal the win.
But with 41 seconds left, Reesing made a mistake that turned out to be the deciding play of the game.
He lobbed a pass over the middle of the USF defense that junior safety Nate Allen intercepted — Reesing’s ninth interception in the past 15 games — and returned for 40 yards to the Kansas 27.
“All I could think was ‘get to the middle of the field,'” Allen said. “I was just trying to make something happen — just trying to make a big play.”
Two plays later, true freshman Maikon Bonani kicked a 43-yard field goal as time expired.
“He’s a competitor,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “I think it’s ingrained in him to be a competitor — to go out there with ice in his veins, in that situation, a true freshman, to kick a 43-yard field goal with two seconds left.”