Grothe Pitt's Biggest Concern

With all the talk about fake punts, team speed and high temperatures during game time, the most dangerous aspect about the South Florida football team should be its quarterback when Pitt (3-1) faces the No. 10-ranked Bulls (5-0) Thursday night at 7:30 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe is in his third season with the program, but it certainly seems like he's been there a lot longer. And he's made a career out of playing games against Pittsburgh.

"He's been there for a while,'' Pitt fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop said, "and he makes a lot of plays. Sometimes, it looks like he's trapped, he's swarmed, but somehow he gets out of it. ... You just have to keep him contained, keep him in the pocket, and not let him bounce out.

"But he's going to make his plays. It's tough to stop him, but you have to minimize what he does. So, we've just got to tackle a lot better this week, certainly better than we did last week (at Syracuse). We can't have any busted assignments or other mistakes with our assignments.''

The Panthers have had a few of those against South Florida, especially where Grothe is concerned, but the veteran quarterback most assuredly can do it all on his own if given a chance. He's made just as many big plays with his feet as he has with his arm for the Bulls. And the Panthers are well aware.

Few are likely forget Grothe's dazzling 80-yard run for a touchdown on the opening play in the second half last year at Heinz Field. He also is tough to sack, so when the Panthers grab him they will be well advised to wrap him up and put him down. That's the best way to stop him.

But the 6-foot, 205-pound junior isn't just a tough, athletic runner any more. He's become a solid passer that Wannstedt believes is the best quarterback in the Big East. Grothe has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,175 yards and eight touchdowns with just two interceptions and has had two games with more than 300 passing yards. He also leads USF with 219 rushing yards and one score.

"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, as far as I'm concerned.''

Grothe has been especially tough on Pitt with South Florida's spread offense. In two games against the Panthers, Grothe has 118 rushing yards and two scores (4.9 average) on 24 attempts, and he has completed 75 percent of his passes (36 of 48) for 339 yards and one score with two interceptions.

Only West Virginia signal-callers Pat White and Rasheed Marshall have more career rushing yards than Grothe (1,713), but he's a much more accomplished passer now. Pitt redshirt junior weak-side linebacker Shane Murray knows all too well that Grothe is just as dangerous with his arm now.

"Grothe is able to pick you apart if you stay back on him,'' Murray said, "but once he gets out of the pocket the play's not over yet. 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. I would say, by far, that he's the best athlete on that team.

"He's not only a good quarterback, but a good athlete. And that's what really hurts other teams. He's so elusive that he can break tackles and get away from people. He has good speed to pull away, but he also has a good arm and has very good accuracy. So, he's a good quarterback, very talented, and it's going to be a battle out there. ... We always have to be aware of him.''

So, he'll certainly be Pitt's focus Thursday night.

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