In a season with a streak of experienced and efficient quarterbacks starting against the USF defense, the latest challenge will be slowing the production of Syracuses fifth-year senior Ryan Nassib, whose last visit to Tampa included the orchestration of a 14-play, 98-yard game winning touchdown drive.
For a defense that has yet to record an interception this season, which coach Skip Holtz said he has never even heard of something like this before, facing the No. 15 passing offense in the nation is a challenge the defense is embracing.
Theyre a very consistent offense, senior cornerback Kayvon Webster said. (Nassib) averages 300 yards a game, theyre No. 13 in the nation in passing offense, so, especially since we dont have any interceptions, its more of a challenge which we welcome.
Though Nassibs statistics have not been eye-popping 2,164 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions his efficiency, consistency and experience that is seen with his 65.2 completion percentage and 309.1 yards per game average posts a challenge that Holtz said could stump the Bulls underachieving defense.
A lot of their strengths are matched up against our weaknesses, he said. Theyre the No. 2 offense in our league, and they are averaging more than 300 yards a game through the air, so it will pose a challenge to our defense. We have a week to build on those weaknesses.
The weaknesses Holtz mentioned are highlighted by the struggles the Bulls have had against mobile quarterbacks. A week ago, the Bulls allowed Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to rush for 74 yards on 10 attempts and convert multiple third downs on the ground.
Along with the necessity to get the first interception of the season, defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said limiting quarterback running is a primary defensive goal against Nassib and the Orange.
Were serious about getting that interception, Cosh said. We have to disrupt the receivers at the line and collapse the pocket. But then we also need to corral the quarterback. Last week on third downs, wed cover all the passes and (Bridgewater) wouldnt have another look but hed just run for a first down. We have to make sure our rush is dispersed equally or else a quarterback will find a soft spot and take off on us.
The Bulls will face a Syracuse offense that has been a work in progress this season, and has slowly morphed into a spread offense that is the top passing attack in the Big East.
It started off as a two tight end offense when they were running and they based their passing game out of that formation too, Cosh said. Then they evolved to more option plays, like the zone read, and now theyve moved to more of a spread offense, throwing the ball quite a bit, and they hang their hat on that.
Cosh said part of the success of the Oranges passing attack is the chemistry between Nassib and senior receivers Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon, who have 37 and 32 receptions this season, respectively.
They have two receivers that have close to 35 catches already, he said. A couple of those receivers have been with the quarterback for three years, so they have a bit of a rhythm.
Though Nassib had a strong start to the 2012 season in averaging more than 300 passing yards a game, the defense can take confidence in the fact that the Bulls have limited the senior in their previous meetings, holding Nassib and the Orange offense to 13 and 17 points in his two games against USF.
Im sure it will be a motivating factor for him, coming in wanting to have a big game against us, Holtz said. But its definitely something that we will talk about and use.
Hopefully its one of those bright spots that you can use to build confidence despite not having success on the field.
Given the increased ball security that come with an experienced signal caller, Nassib will pose more of a threat to the team.
You have to know the quarterback wont make many mistakes, senior linebacker Sam Barrington said. So anything that he does give you, you have to take it and dont pass up any opportunities.