Audio slide show: USF-Cincinnati preview
TAMPA -- Junior linebacker Sabbath Joseph knows USF's defense will be tested in the middle of the field on Thursday night, facing No. 8 Cincinnati's high-scoring offense on ESPN.
"We've been very strong in our pass coverage this year," Joseph said. "It's going to be a big challenge for us. I'm ready for big things from the linebackers corps this Thursday."
Linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator David Blackwell said his position will be a key in controlling the middle of the field, a favorite spot for the Bearcats' passing game.
"We've got to match their tempo," Blackwell said. "Obviously, they throw the football around pretty good, and this week will be a challenge to us from a coverage standpoint because they attack the middle of the field and they attack the linebackers. They try to create mismatches, moving guys around to get their best players matched up on safeties and linebackers."
Blackwell said USF's speed at linebacker, especially Joseph, could help the Bulls against quarterback Tony Pike's passing attack.
"A kid like Sabbath hopefully excels in a game like this, because that's his strength," Blackwell said. "Kion (Wilson) is going to be consistent, always going to give you everything he's got, and Chris (Robinson) is probably playing as well as he has in his career. As a group, we just have to keep our foot on the gas pedal. The challenge is being consistent."
Blackwell said it will be important to keep fresh legs on the field, so don't be surprised to see more of USF's two newcomers at linebacker, as freshman Sam Barrington continues to impress off the bench, and junior Jacquian Williams could help the Bulls with his pass coverage skills.
"The other guy you're going to probably start seeing that seems to be coming on is Jacquian Williams," Blackwell said. "He is a guy who in practice has been really impressive the last two weeks. He's starting to really get it, and we're going to need him."
Robinson said he's been impressed by the arm strength Pike has shown, and his ability to make any throw on the field, but also is hopeful of USF's ability to create turnovers.
"He can throw it from the right hash to out of bounds on the left on the comebacks," Robinson said. "His arm is strong, but he looks down his receivers sometimes. We have to catch him looking and try to get a couple of picks."
Joseph said he's seen how Bearcats star receiver Mardy Gilyard -- who has touchdowns in every game this season -- likes to beat linebackers in coverage. He said he doesn't mind covering an elite receiver if needed.
"Cincinnati loves attacking the middle of the field, and that's going to be a big challenge for us, making sure we cover the dig routes," Joseph said. "When Mardy Gilyard lines up in the slot in the five wide, that's what he loves to attack. ... I have no problem with it. Since high school, I've been covering receivers and running backs. It's no problem for me. I like doing it."