Grothe helps Bulls get by Western Kentucky
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Take a good look around the country the past two weeks. They're everywhere: Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Kansas State, Duke, Virginia, Ball State and Temple. All prohibitive favorites, and all upset victims to lesser opponents. For a while, the University of South Florida appeared it might join the club Saturday night, but the Bulls did enough to outlast Western Kentucky, 35-13. The Bulls (2-0) were 241/2-point favorites against the 0-2 Hilltoppers, who were playing their second game as a FBS school and coming off a 63-7 loss at Tennessee.Pretty much USF's only highlights were senior quarterback Matt Grothe becoming the Big East's all-time total offense leader, senior running back Mo Plancher's first career 100-yard rushing day and, oh yeah, the victory. Grothe threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns - 14 yards to Theo Wilson and 17 yards to Ben Busbee. Both TD tosses came on third-down plays. Plancher rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, ending USF's streak of 16 consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher. Grothe also rushed for 53 yards, finishing with 261 total yards, and Carlton Mitchell had four catches for 130 yards. USF coach Jim Leavitt said earlier this week he wanted to see how much his young team improved from last week's opener. It probably wasn't the performance he envisioned before 20,568 fans, the second-largest crowd in WKU history at Houchens-Smith Stadium. "Playing them isn't anything in the world like playing in the Big East, not even in the hemisphere," Leavitt said. "We're a much better team than Western. They played with more heart at times. We allowed them to stay in the game." Senior Delbert Alvarado missed field goals from 40 and 49 yards, USF fumbled consecutive punt returns, although one was nullified by a penalty, and the Bulls allowed WKU to rush for 200 yards (105 by quarterback Brandon Smith) - a week after WKU was limited to 83 total yards by Tennessee. A week ago, the Bulls only committed six penalties, but the Bulls' old nemesis resurfaced Saturday, when they committed nine for 85 yards. "We just shot ourselves in the foot with penalties," Grothe said. "If we don't have penalties, we score a lot more." The only suspense of the night was expected to be when Grothe passed West Virginia's Pat White for the Big East's total offense record. It occurred with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter. From WKU's 21, Grothe dropped back, then sprinted up the middle on a quarterback draw and darted to the outside. WKU linebacker Thomas Majors finally pushed Grothe out of bounds and into the record books after the 12-yard gain. "It's an honor," Grothe said. "But we have to keep going." After Alvarado missed from 40 yards on USF's first possession, WKU took its only lead on a 40-yard field goal with 6:14 remaining in the first. Grothe hit Mitchell on a short crossing pattern that Mitchell turned into a 50-yard reception down to the 1. Plancher then scored on the next play for a 7-3 lead. Grothe's pass to Wilson in the corner of the end zone made it 14-3 midway through the second, but the Hilltoppers closed to within 14-6 in the final minute of the half. The Bulls and Hilltoppers traded touchdowns in the third quarter. Freshman B.J. Daniels scored on a 7-yard run for USF following another short pass from Grothe that Mitchell turned into a 65-yard gain. The Bulls pulled away in the fourth with a pair of touchdowns - Grothe's 17-yard pass to Busbee, and Plancher's 20-yard scamper with 6:03 left. WKU lost its 13th consecutive game to a BCS opponent, while the Bulls won their 15th in a row against a non-BCS team. USF goes for its 16th in a row against non-BCS foes when the Bulls host FCS member Charleston Southern on Saturday. "I guess it's pretty good when we're disappointed and we won (35-13). The Big East is a lot better than all this stuff," Leavitt said.
Reporter Brett McMurphy can be reached at (813) 259-7928