USF focuses on pass defense heading into AAC opener

USF kicks off the American Athletic Conference season against a familiar foe from the Big East in Cincinnati (3-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m., and the Bulls expect the Bearcats to try to pass it deep, just as the Miami Hurricanes’ offense did last week.

The Hurricanes exploited the Bulls’ pass defense time after time with deep passes, leaving USF coach Willie Taggart to say he was constantly screaming at the defense to stay deep in an attempt to prevent the field-stretching passes.

But lost in the midst of an aerial assault of the USF (0-4) defense was how close they were to sacking the quarterback multiple times, senior linebacker DeDe Lattimore said.

“When we watched the film, we were a half-second late on at least four sack opportunities and that played a huge role (in the big plays),” Lattimore said.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan spoke last week about the USF defense successfully limiting big plays in the previous two games.

He said his defense was unprepared for the speed of Miami and it showed when the defense was the least bit out of position -— the Hurricanes burned the Bulls on deep passes. But Bresnahan said the plays were closer to working out in USF’s favor than it appeared.

“We hit their quarterback on two of the big touchdown plays as he’s releasing the ball,” Bresnahan said. “We had three guys running to the quarterback unblocked. So it’s a total team effort. If you take away the big plays, it’s a different game.”

Bresnahan said football is a copycat sport, and not only will Cincinnati try to replicate what Miami did, but each remaining opponent will also try to pass it deep on USF.

Lattimore said the team is focusing on passing concepts in practice to correct the mistakes made against Miami, but the key to reaching the quarterback is for defensive backs and linebackers to cover just a little bit longer so linemen can get to the quarterback. Lattimore expects more deep passing from the Bearcats.

“Cincinnati is a great passing team,” he said. “We’ve got to get in our alignments and do what coach tells us and we’ll be OK. I think they’ve become more of a passing team since Munchie Legaux got hurt. This week we’re looking forward to a lot of passing downfield.”

USF is preparing for senior Bearcats quarterback Brendon Kay after the injury to Legaux, who was more of a running quarterback, Lattimore said.

Similar to how USF was close to reaching the quarterback, Bresnahan believes USF is close to getting their first win. Bresnahan said he thinks the team is closer to winning than the players even believe, and referenced a similar situation the team faced in 1987.

“Going back to 1987 at Georgia Tech, we had the longest losing streak in Division I,” he said. “Three years later we won a national championship. It takes a lot of hard work and determination and not blinking an eye at what you believe in. There’s no fractioning within the team. We’re getting closer and closer as a team.”

Even though USF was down by five touchdowns at one point against Miami, Bresnahan said the Bulls will be ready to step up Saturday against the Bearcats, who rank 47th in the country with 257 passing yards per game.

“We got out-coached and out-executed against Miami, but our guys are ready to step back up,” he said. “Our guys are rising to the occasion every day because they know how close we are. We just need that first win to get going.”