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September 16, 2007In the summer, UC had a four-way competition at quarterback which eventually was narrowed down to one. Senior transfer Ben Mauk won the job over incumbent, junior Dustin Grutza.
Mauk was held out of throwing drills often in training camp due to a season-ending shoulder injury he sustained in Wake Forest's season opener against Syracuse. He was deemed healthy enough to start and took the majority of the snaps in Cincinnati's first two games.
However, the throws he made in those games took a tool on the surgically repaired right shoulder of Mauk, and in a surprise move, head coach Brian Kelly decided to go with Grutza.
"I had not made a decision until about 25 minutes before game time," Kelly said.
Grutza said he found out he would be making his first start since Nov. 25 of 2006 while warming up for the game, and was as surprised as anyone.
"I wasn't expecting to go in there, at all," Grutza said.
Even though he found out less than 30 minutes before kickoff that he was the starter, Grutza said he was ready.
"I'm always prepared like I'm going to start," Grutza said. "Going out there it wasn't like I was scared or anything. I felt good, comfortable, and it's just like going out there in practice, you just make sure you have your reads right."
And ready he was. The junior responded to the spot start with a career-high 290 yards on 25-35 passing with two touchdowns in the Bearcats' 47-10 victory over Miami.
On UC's first offensive play, Grutza had a wide open Marcus Barnett , but under threw him and the ball short-hopped into the receiver's hand, negating a possible big opening play. Grutza, the starter for the last two seasons, quickly shook the rust off and lead the Bearcats to a successful defense of the Victory Bell.
"I missed that first throw, and it was a big one. I was like, 'OK, I can't have any more of those.' It was fun to get out there again, and the team played great. It was a lot of big plays by my teammates," Grutza said.
According to Grutza, he received the same amount of reps in practice as he has all season, with Mauk preparing as the starter, but Kelly said he didn't like what he saw out of how Mauk was throwing the ball in practice.
"He just didn't have the zip on the ball," Kelly said. "I didn't like the way the ball was hanging out during the week on perimeter throws."
With Kelly's timing-pass offense, the head coach decided to go with the experienced, healthier backup.
"We've got other guys. We've got two other guys in the bullpen that can play a little bit, so no sense in throwing a guy out there who's not 100 percent," Kelly said. "Our next-man-in philosophy is that the next man in, Pike or Grutza, can help us win."
Despite the career game by Grutza, Kelly said that if Mauk is healthy next week, he will be the starter.
For now though, Grutza was happy just to be on the field.
"It was a blessing to get out there and be playing again," Grutza said.
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