Pitt football-South Florida preview

The University of Pittsburgh football team (6-2) is set to play the tough South Florida Bulls (5-3) at noon today at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. Can the Panthers get back in the win column? PantherDigest.com senior writer Dale Grdnic takes a look at the game.

PITTSBURGH -- The University of Pittsburgh won't have to face West Virginia and dazzling quarterback Pat White until Thanksgiving night, but the Panthers get a preview against South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe.

Pitt (6-2 overall, 2-1 in the Big East) faces Grothe and the Bulls (5-3, 1-2) today at noon at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

"They're a talented football team, and their young quarterback is going to be one of the top guys in the Conference,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He's just a redshirt freshman, so he'll continue to get better.

"He's a good passer and a very good runner. He makes a lot of plays with the ball in his hands. He's made some pretty good decisions, and that's been a real spark for their offense this season.''

Grothe has completed nearly 62 percent of his passes for 1,435 yards and nine touchdowns with eight interceptions. But he also leads USF with 482 yards rushing (4.3-yard average) and seven scores. Grothe runs the Bulls offense out of a spread alignment, similar to White does at WVU, and he can run or pass on any play. He'll also run the option on occasion.

"Yes, it's a form of the option,'' Wannstedt said. "Their quarterback has the option to keep it anytime he wants to, similar to what West Virginia does. So, he makes good decisions. He was a runner in high school, running a similar offensive attack.

"I think he was a thousand-yard rusher, so this isn't something new to him. Part of their offensive attack is for the quarterback to keep the ball and run, and that makes them a little different.''

When he isn't running the ball, Grothe usually tosses it to Benjamin Williams. The sophomore tailback has 301 yards rushing and two scores. When he throws it, Grothe has several solid pass-catchers. Senior Ean Randolph leads a group of six players with double-figure catches with 29 and three touchdowns. Taurus Johnson is next with 20 catches and one score.

Randolph also leads the Big East in punt returns with a 16.5-yard average and a 76-yard touchdown return. Randolph transferred from Weber State. Johnson is the top kick returner with 24.6 yards per runback.

"South Florida has the No. 1 punt returner,'' Wannstedt said. "He has returned five punts for touchdowns, but three were called back. ... He's their leading receiver, too, and he's in the top 10 in the country in punt returns.''

Defensively, the Bulls pressure the quarterback. They pursue as well with 18 sacks and 45 total stops behind the line. Junior middle linebacker Ben Moffitt (45 solo) and senior strong-side linebacker Stephen Nicholas (50) are the leading tacklers with 72 and 69 stops, respectively. Frosh right end George Selvie and junior nose tackle Allen Cray have 4.5 sacks each.

"They're the same type of team that they've always been, as far as team speed and with athletic defensive players,'' Palko said. "They have some relatively big guys up front that can move around, and their linebackers seem like they're the same ones since I've been here.

"They're secondary is athletic, too, so we need to be on our game as far as being on time with our passes and routes. I have to be very accurate with these guys as well. They'll make you pay if you're just an inch behind a guy, and they'll make you pay with scores.''

Junior left cornerback Trae Williams heads a secondary with five interceptions and five pass breakups. Sophomore free safety Carlton Williams is the least experienced, but he is 6-feet-4 and 205 pounds. So, he's strong and physical.

"When I got that fast start my confidence got a boost a little bit, but when I slowed down in the middle of the season I knew that the defenses were going to start looking my way,'' junior wideout Derek Kinder said. "That was frustrating, a little bit, but I already knew it was coming.

"So, I had to take that role and do whatever I could to help the team. Against South Florida, it's real important for us to work on our fundamentals and timing, because we know how good their secondary is from last season. If it's not worked out, the ball can easily go the other way.''

Pitt can secure a bowl bid with a win today.

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