Bulls' pass defense facing tough test vs. Syracuse
One area in particular that USF coach Skip Holtz was disappointed in during Saturday's loss at Louisville was the Bulls' pass defense, which will have another tough challenge this weekend against Syracuse, which has the Big East's top passing attack, averaging 308 yards per game.
"This is not exciting to say walking into what we're walking into, but I don't think our pass defense is what it needs to be," Holtz said on the Big East's weekly coaches' teleconference. "You're walking into a team that's throwing for more than 300 yards a game ... The pass defense is one of the biggest things. It's not just coverage, but Saturday one of the things that showed up was pass-rush lanes. You can't just tape your ears back every play and go flying back there for the quarterback, especially against an athletic one like we did last week."
Syracuse ranks 15th nationally in pass offense, with senior Ryan Nassib throwing for 2,159 yards and 13 touchdowns and completing 65 percent of his passes; receiver Marcus Sales is tied for the conference lead in touchdown catches and he and Alec Lemon are both in the Big East's top four in catches and receiving yards. USF, meanwhile, ranks last in the league in pass efficiency defense, in part because the Bulls have no interceptions this season.
Holtz said he's seeing progress in USF's running game, as well as the run defense from its front seven, but he was more concerned about problems against the pass after seeing another opponent march down the field for a game-winning touchdown after USF had rallied for 15 straight points in the fourth quarter to take the lead with 3:09 to play. Asked by a Syracuse reporter about USF's close losses and why the Bulls might be better than their 2-5 record, Holtz was blunt: "I don't know. Somebody else might have to answer that question."
"I can see some weaknesses which is why we're in the position that we're in right now, that we have to improve on," Holtz said, "but I'd have to sit back and have time to look at the whole big picture and really evaluate it and say 'OK, what makes us better than our record indicates?' I think our team is playing hard right now. I think their attitude is extremely positive, especially for a team that there is so much negativity on the outside with the win-loss record and the expectations coming into the season. They've continued to stay together, they're working hard and playing hard."
Holtz reiterated that he understand why Bulls fans are unhappy, saying that players and coaches share in that disappointment and frustration and can only work to try to end the five-game losing streak against a Syracuse team that USF beat on the road last season.
"I don't think you can insulate them," he said of his players. "They're in the classroom, they're around the student body, they're obviously reading newspapers. Everybody's upset. We're upset. This is not a thing where I can't imagine why everybody's upset. With the number of losses we've had, and they've been close losses ... We've been competitive in football games. We haven't been able to finish and find a way to win it. From that standpoint, there's a lot of negativity as far as everybody being upset with where we are. I don't blame them. I'm upset with where we are."