South Florida QB poses dual threat
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt needs no reminder of what South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe can do on his feet, whether it was his cartwheel out of a sack to complete a 24-yard pass in 2006 or breaking off an 80-yard touchdown on the opening play of the second half last season.
"All you've got to do is see it once," Wannstedt said, "unfortunately."
What is making Big East foes do a double take is Grothe's development into an efficient passer. The 6-foot, 205-pound junior has completed 66 percent of his passes, thrown eight touchdowns and only two interceptions and produced a pair of 300-yard games this season.
It's no wonder Wannstedt called Grothe "the top quarterback in our conference" -- no small declaration, considering West Virginia senior Pat White is the reigning two-time Big East offensive player of the year.
"I remember him as a redshirt freshman, and you could see the athleticism when he was on his feet, moving around, and you could see the arm strength," Wannstedt said. "The thing that was lacking was the experience. Now, being a three-year starter, he's making good decisions. Anytime your touchdown ratio is four times what your interception ratio is, you're playing outstanding football. That says it all."
Grothe has developed into one of the nation's most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks, which makes minimizing his big-play ability a focal point for Pitt (3-1, 1-0) against No. 10 USF (5-0, 0-0) in an ESPN-televised Big East game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Raymond James Stadium.
Not only does Grothe lead the Bulls in rushing (219 yards) and passing (1,175 yards), he also leads the Big East in passing yards (235.0) and total offense (278.8) per game in a USF spread offense that uses four- and five-receiver sets.
|Not your average QB|
|A look at USF quarterback Matt Grothe's combined statistics against Pitt the past two seasons:|
That's a credit to the development of a quarterback whose 1,713 rushing yards ranks third all-time among Big East players at his position, behind only West Virginia's White and Rasheed Marshall.
"I've learned from some mistakes of the past," Grothe said. "We take what the defense is going to give us. The guys know that whenever it's their time to make a play, they do. We don't have any selfish guys on the team that want the ball on every play. When you have 11 guys doing their job, it turns into a good thing."
That's a change from the past, when Grothe has been a one-man show against the Panthers. He has averaged nearly 7 yards per carry and completed 75 percent of his passes in the past two games against Pitt and has made a habit of turning in backbreaking plays that sparked USF.
In 2006, Grothe escaped pressure on one play for a 24-yard run. Later, defensive tackle Gus Mustakas flung Grothe to the ground for an apparent sack, but he put his left down and wheeled away to complete the pass. Last season, Pitt watched its 14-10 halftime lead disappear 13 seconds into the third quarter when Grothe raced for a touchdown.
"Their quarterback is a special player," Pitt middle linebacker Scott McKillop said. "They want the ball in his hands. He makes a lot of people look silly. Sometimes, you think, 'Oh, there's three people around him. He's trapped. He's swarmed.' And, somehow, he manages to get out."
Grothe is at his best in big games. He completed 23 of 40 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-24 overtime victory over Central Florida on Sept. 6. The following Friday, he completed 32 of 45 passes for 338 yards and two touchdowns in rallying the Bulls from an 18-point deficit with a 31-point outburst in a 37-34 victory over Kansas.
"Grothe is able to pick you apart if you stay back on him, but once he gets out of the pocket the play's not over yet," Pitt weak-side linebacker Shane Murray said. "He's very good at rolling out, too, and he'll find guys downfield. He has the ability to see the whole field. So, he can hold the ball and kill a defense with his legs and his arms.
"And that's what hurts other teams."