Big test looms in Cincinnati

USF’s 16-10 loss to UConn on Saturday can be blamed on a few factors, including the nine penalties called on the Bulls amounting to 89 yards. As USF coach Skip Holtz pointed out, it was the most penalty yardage his team has accumulated in his time at USF.

“The Connecticut game was frustrating because there were so many positive things in that game and we had so many guys play really well,” he said. “We had too many penalties. Nine (penalties) for (89) yards, which is the most I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

USF was penalized 10 times in the 23-20 overtime win on the road against Miami last year, but only for 58 yards. The Bulls were previously penalized nine times twice this year, against Notre Dame and Florida A&M, but for 43 and 72 yards, respectively.

Holtz addressed this and other concerns in Monday’s Big East coaches teleconference and said that although there were some negatives in last week’s game, there were some positive plays that were overshadowed in the loss.

Holtz lauded the defense, which tied a school record with seven sacks against UConn.

“I thought, defensively, it was one of our better efforts, (especially) after what we had done at Pitt and just so many guys that played so well, but we really had a hard time putting long drives together to put the ball in the end zone.”

With the loss behind them, the Bulls now shift their focus to a 5-1 Cincinnati team that Holtz said has played well defensively through six games. The Bearcats come in with the 15th-best scoring defense in the country, allowing an average of 16.5 points per game.

“Their defense is a pressure-oriented defense,” Holtz said. “They’re ninth in the country in sacks, they’re (fifth) in the country in tackles for loss, they’re 15th in the country in scoring defense and they’re fourth in the country in rushing defense.

“So, when you look at them with what they have done through six games, they are really strong as a defensive football team. I think it’s one of their strengths when you look at guys up front like (Derek) Wolfe, you look at how active their linebackers are. I think Wolfe is one of the best players in this league as a defensive tackle, as a 300-pound senior in the middle.”

Wolfe has 30 total tackles and five sacks through six games. He had a career-high 11 tackles in the Bearcats’ 25-16 win against Louisville last week and earned a spot on last week’s Big East Honor roll.

“I think this is a very good Cincinnati team,” Holtz said. “I know they went through a slide there and their year last year was disappointing for them, but they have rebounded with a thunderous roar here as they’re coming into the 2011 season, and I think they are playing really well.”

Holtz said that his team feels a sense of urgency to get its first Big East win of the season.

“I think there’s an urgency, frustration, whether it’s just, ‘What do we have to do to win,'” Holtz said. “This is a very committed football team, and we are improving in a lot of areas. I think if you want to continue to compete for a championship, I think it is … a ‘must-win,'” he said. “I would think it would be difficult to win the conference with three losses when you look at some of the teams that are out there and the way they are playing right now.”