7:30 PM ET, October 15, 2009
Raymond James Stadium, TAMPA, FL
Opposing quarterbacks have every reason to be concerned about facing South Florida. Cincinnati's Tony Pike, though, hasn't had much rattle him against the Bulls other than a pre-existing injury.
Now healthy after contending with a painful injury last season, Pike looks to lead the eighth-ranked Bearcats to a fourth straight win over the 21st-ranked Bulls in a matchup of undefeated Big East teams Thursday night.
South Florida (5-0, 1-0) once again has one of the nation's top defenses, and it has been particularly tough on quarterbacks, holding them to two touchdowns while forcing seven interceptions.
Last season, the Bulls ranked 25th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 20.0 points per game, but struggled against Cincinnati. Playing with a soft cast protecting a surgically repaired left forearm, Pike completed 20 of 28 passes for 281 yards and two TDs as Cincinnati upset then-No. 24 South Florida 24-10 on Oct. 30.
It was Pike's second game back after breaking his non-passing arm, which was held together by a plate and six screws. He took several hard hits against the Bulls, but didn't come out of the game until the fourth quarter when the force of a snap hurt his left hand so much that he could only endure one more play.
Pike was working under center instead of out of the shotgun, Cincinnati's preferred way of operating its no-huddle offense.
Pike has the Bearcats (5-0, 1-0) surging this season. He has thrown for 1,493 yards and 13 TDs while getting picked off three times. He's six TDs shy of his total from 12 games last season.
Cincinnati ranks third in the country in scoring with 43.2 points per game. The Bearcats have a quick-strike offense that has averaged 1:52 on 10 scoring drives over the last two games, including a 37-13 win at Miami (Ohio) on Oct. 3.
"We'd be concerned if our defense was out there struggling, but as you can see the last two weeks, they've bowed up when they needed to and they're continuing to make plays," said Pike, who has thrown a touchdown pass in 15 straight starts. "On offense, we're going to come out when we get the possessions and make the most out of it."
Cincinnati has given up 33 points over its last two contests, a relatively low number considering all the time it has spent on the field. Bearcats opponents have held the ball for a nation-leading 36:08 per contest.
"We've got some very good players on offense and can score points," Bearcats coach Brian Kelly said. "We've got to get off the field (defensively) on third down. I guess one way would be to slow down the scoring drives, but I'd rather just score quickly."
Kelly and Cincinnati face a stiff test against South Florida, which ranks third in the nation in forced turnovers (16), fifth in scoring defense (9.4) and 10th in total yards allowed (263.0).
The Bulls didn't allow a passing touchdown in four games before surrendering two in their conference opener, a 34-20 victory at Syracuse on Oct. 3. Cincinnati, though, forced seven turnovers, intercepting former Duke point guard Greg Paulus five times.
Senior safety Nate Allen is the anchor of the Bulls' secondary. He leads the team with 29 tackles and two interceptions, and he's forced and recovered a fumble.
Allen is complemented by a defensive line featuring end Jason Pierre-Paul, who returned an interception 18 yards for a score versus Syracuse and tops the team with 6 1/2 tackles for loss.
Offensively, South Florida is led by freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels, who has started two games since senior Matt Grothe suffered a season-ending knee injury. Daniels has made an appearance in all five of South Florida's games, passing for six TDs while getting picked off twice.
In his first start, Daniels led the Bulls to a stunning 17-7 win at then-No. 18 Florida State on Sept. 26.
Daniels has an excellent target in 6-foot-4 wide receiver Carlton Mitchell, who has 21 receptions for 377 yards and three TDs. Mitchell has two games with at least 130 yards this season, including a two-TD effort against the Orange.
Mitchell has 11 receptions for 187 yards in two games against the Bearcats, but the Bulls lost both contests. South Florida is 15-14 in conference play since joining the Big East and has lost three straight to Cincinnati since a 31-16 win Nov. 19, 2005.
The Bearcats lead the series 4-2. This will be the first meeting in which both teams have been ranked.
Top 25 Overview
It's a battle of Big East unbeatens when Cincinnati's high-flying offense meets South Florida's stingy defense. The Bearcats, behind QB Tony Pike, bring in the nation's third-ranked scoring offense. The Bulls boast the country's fifth-rated scoring defense. The Bearcats lead the series 4-2. This will be the first meeting in which both teams are ranked.
Daniels' athleticism and a hostile environment will give Bearcats trouble.
|Avg Points Allowed||14.3||13.5|