"We got beat by a pretty good football team tonight," said Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien. "I think it's pretty apparent. They came in here, I think our kids were ready to play, we played hard, but we just couldn't make a play against them. They made plays against us."
Grothe finished the game 20-for-29 for 259 yards and one touchdown and also rushed for 68 yards. His counterpart, Harrison Beck, starting in place of injured Russell Wilson and making his first start of 2008, finished the game 9-for-32 with 239 yards but no touchdowns and three interceptions. Andre Brown scored the Pack's only touchdown and finished with 85 receiving yards and 38 rushing yards.
Grothe wasted no time in putting South Florida ahead, marching down the field 76 yards for a touchdown on the game's opening drive. He was 3-for-3 for 59 yards on the drive and also had a nine-yard run, using a 38-yard pass play to get deep in Wolfpack territory. Jamal Taylor finished off the drive with a one-yard run on third down, a play where the big back was hit behind the line of scrimmage but carried linebacker Dwayne Maddox into the endzone.
Maddox, a true freshman linebacker from Shelby, North Carolina, was making his first career start. At one point, NC State was playing eight freshmen or sophomores on the defensive side of the ball, and that inexperience was exploited by a fast, physical South Florida offense.
"I think we played hard," said O'Brien. "I think our inexperience hurt us. They worked the boundary and worked against Dwayne [Maddox]. Dwayne is in there playing as hard as he can, but he's not used to seeing the speed and the things going on.
"Smart on their part, we tried to make adjustments and help him out.. I'm not saying it's his fault, I'm just saying it's some of our inexperience."
The Pack answered the opening with a score of its own, as Harrison Beck hit on a long pass play to put his team in field goal position. Beck hit wideout Steven Howard in stride for a 41-yard passing play over the middle to put State inside the 20-yard line, but the Pack was unable to punch it in from there. Instead they settled for a 32-yard field goal from Josh Czajkowski, but at that point it appeared as though the Pack might be able to keep pace with the Bulls.
But Grothe soon put the game out of reach, attacked a thin and injury-plagued Pack defense with an aerial and ground assault that State could not hold down. He followed his first eight-play touchdown drive with another eight-play assault that ended in a touchdown, this time finishing it off with a nine-yard pass to Carlton Mitchell. After the Pack went three-and-out, the Bulls made it 21-3 with another long touchdown drive. This one took 14 plays and wore down the Pack defense on the ground, ending with a one-yard run from Mike Ford.
"That quarterback, he's something special," O'Brien said of Grothe. "He's the real deal. [USF is] a lot different [on offense than ECU]. Much more speed, more powerful up front. As I said, I think that quarterback is the best we've seen this year by far. Their whole offense is pretty efficient at what they do."
Then the Pack offense collapsed, giving away four points and helping South Florida get three more. The Pack had two safeties, both the result of bad snaps, to give the Bulls four points. The first was a high snap over the head of the punter, the next was a snap that slipped through the hands of Beck which he kicked into the back of the endzone. The second safety gave the Bulls good field position and they converted with a 20-yard field goal. The Bulls would add one more field goal while the Pack would get its first touchdown on a one-yard run from Andre Brown to make the halftime score 31-10.
State had a much better third quarter defensively, holding the Bulls scoreless for the full 15 minutes. However the offense couldn't bring the Pack any closer on the scoreboard, marching all the way down to the two-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. The final quarter was less kind to the Pack, as South Florida added another 10 points to its total and the Wolfpack again failed to add any points on the scoreboard.
Checking in at 2-3, the Wolfpack has completed its nonconference schedule and will host Atlantic Division rival Boston College next Saturday at noon.
"It's over," O'Brien said of this game. "Forget about it, go back in conference next week and see what we can get done."