The difference in Matt Grothe's season entering Saturday's game was how remarkably he'd avoided the turnovers that limited his success in his first two seasons.
After coming in with just three interceptions in his first six games, Grothe had two in Saturday's loss to Louisville, including one on his final play. But USF coach Jim Leavitt wasn't about to fault Grothe for battling amid constant pressure at the end of the game.
"I didn't think we protected enough for Matt. That's what I thought was the big problem," Leavitt said. "I thought Matt did some great things. I thought he was courageous and played extremely well."
Grothe, known for his ability to scramble out of sacks, tried to do that on his last play, but as Louisville's Earl Heyman pulled on his jersey, his pass across the middle was intercepted by cornerback Johnny Patrick.
"When he threw the interception, he was just trying so hard to make something happen," Leavitt said. "I almost can't fault him that. I know you can't throw the interception, but that poor guy was battling for his life. He didn't want to take a sack. I'm so proud of Matt Grothe. I'll go with him any day of the week."
Grothe completed 30 of 40 passes for 344 yards, two yards short of a season high, and hit 11 different receivers and rallying the Bulls from a 14-3 deficit. With two touchdown passes Saturday, he has thrown 14 this season, one short of his career high.
"He's a heck of a player. He's a competitor and he's got a lot of heart," Heyman said. "I hit him one time and he just got back up and smiled at me. When you're out there playing against a player of that caliber, with that type of skill, you just have to keep going after him."
Louisville had pressure on Grothe on four of his last five plays, blitzing an offensive line that missed starting right tackle Marc Dile for the final three quarters. True freshman Danous Estenor, who has had only limited playing time before Saturday, filled in the rest of the game.
"We got some guys knocked out and had some other guys in there who haven't always been in there," Grothe said.
The quarterback said he would have liked one more chance at a final drive, upset by the holding penalty that allowed Louisville to run out the clock.
"Losing is part of life, and so is winning," Grothe said. "It's already in the past. We just need to worry about our next game."