One of the biggest questions heading into the 2006 opener against the McNeese State Cowboys was concerning who would be the starter at quarterback for the Bulls. While Pat Julmiste initially opened the game behind center, injuries forced him to take a back seat to freshman Matt Grothe earlier then expected. According to Coach Jim Leavitt, the plan was to have Grothe start the second half while Julmiste would play the entire first.
Prior to exiting the game, Julmiste completed 5 of 8 passes for 38 yards and one interception which came when defensive end Bryant Mason deflected a pass before picking it off to bring the opening drive to a close. At first Grothe did not fair much better after only completing 3 of 7 passes for 17 yards and trailing the Cowboys 10-7 going into halftime. Kicker Mike Benzer missed a 40 yard field goal which hit the post with 48 seconds left in the first half that would have tied the game. For his career Benzer is 0-4 on field goals including the three he missed in last year's opener. Overall the offense struggled throughout the first half while the defense was able to constantly put pressure on and abuse freshman quarterback Derrick Fourroux.
As the third quarter opened, the Bulls' offense seemed to still lack the confidence needed to win games. On the opening drive of the second half Grothe fumbled while running with the ball which was picked up by McNeese State's David Turnage. Then something changed for the Bulls and the offense finally began to gel. On the next possession, Grothe proved to be dependable after completing two consecutive passes to Amarri Jackson followed by a 16 yard scramble by the freshman.
Then Grothe completed a 47 yard touchdown pass to Marcus Edwards streaking down the field to give USF their first lead of the game. From there, the offense completely blew open the game. By the end of the game he had completed 9 of 13 for 172 yards and two touchdowns while his favorite target for the game, Marcus Edwards, caught 3 balls for 62 yards and a touchdown.
Grothe gets congratulated after his 47-yard TD pass.
On the following drive McNeese State ran a fake punt on fourth and 5 which was blown up in the backfield by Ryan Gilliam for a nine yard loss. Two plays later, Grothe completed a ten yard touchdown pass to Ean Randolph who also proved to be the team's top punt returner. He had one return for 32 yards and then followed that up with a 70 yard return for a touchdown which was called back due to a block in the back.
Along the way, the defense proved it was the most valuable asset of the Bulls. The star for the defense was Trae Williams who seemed to be involved in every single important play that was made by the defense. The highlight came in the first quarter when Williams seemed to be beat deep but was able to jump in front of the receiver and pull down his fourth career interception. He also came up huge late with a block punt.
While the scoreboard might show that the defense surrendered 10 points, 7 were scored off a fumbled snap by Illa Petrov which was recovered by Jared Dolan of McNeese State for the lone touchdown. For the game the leading tacklers were Stephen Nicholas with 7 and Jeremy Burnett with 6. In the fourth quarter, Walt Smith and Keeley Dorsey found themselves to be the main backs carrying the load. In fact five running backs were used throughout the game mainly after Plancher went down with a leg injury. Smith became the leading rusher for the game with 7 carries for 70 yards and two touchdowns, one from three yards out and the second was a 24 yard scamper down the field. On the game's final play, Keeley Dorsey got only his second handoff of the game which he turned into a 52 yard touchdown run as the clock expired.
USF/McNeese State Game Summary
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