ST. PETERSBURG — Before he lit up the Bucs defense Sunday, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers spent time with USF's offense, and he had some motivational words for the team Saturday before he watched the Bulls' 41-14 win against Memphis in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
"(Matt Grothe) had a little motivation (Saturday) morning when Philip Rivers showed up to our team meeting to visit with a couple of the guys," said receivers coach Mike Canales, who coached Rivers at N.C. State. "He gave them some words of motivation and encouragement, told Matt to go out and play with the fire he saw him play with early in the season."
Grothe was named the bowl's most outstanding player, throwing for three touchdowns, passing for 236 yards and rushing for a game-high 83.
"He played like he had something to prove," Canales said. "He felt like he hadn't played as well, and he wanted to come back and say, 'I'm Matt Grothe. I can play.' … They were determined not to get beat."
Canales, in turn, was a guest of Rivers' on Sunday, watching from the San Diego sideline at Raymond James Stadium.
MORE LIKE IT: Offensive coordinator Greg Gregory said Grothe's play was stellar but reiterated that the plays he made Saturday were plays he failed to make in recent losses.
"Without me just flat out ripping him, he knows the last ball game we had touchdown passes we didn't hit. He knows that," Gregory said. "He takes that stuff personally. I think he knows in his mind, you never take full responsibility for a loss, but three or four touchdown passes were there and we just didn't hit. …We had two against Louisville we needed to hit, we had three against West Virginia we needed to hit. Not that you hit every one of those, but you've got to hit some of them. I thought he came out and really responded and played well. … He was just on."
BETTER THAN BOISE: The announced attendance of 25,055 was the lowest for a first-time bowl since 1997, a span of 17 bowls that have been added to the postseason lineup. The last time a bowl debuted to a smaller audience was the 1997 Humanitarian in Boise, Idaho, which drew 16,131 to see Cincinnati beat Utah State. Only three other bowls since have debuted before fewer than 27,000.