So what happens when the Big East's top defense against the pass faces the conference's best passing offense? In the case of the University of South Florida, it falters.
The Bulls and their secondary had their share of problems against the Bearcats in a 24-10 loss at Nippert Stadium on Thursday night.
Tony Pike, a junior who was third on Cincinnati's depth chart in the preseason, was 20 of 28 for 281 yards, the second-largest total USF has given up this season, and two touchdowns. Pike's status for Thursday night's game was up in the air after he left Saturday's game against Connecticut due to numbness in his non-throwing hand.
But he didn't seem to have any aftereffects against the Bulls.
Utilizing Coach Brian Kelly's spread offense, Pike routinely found open receivers underneath USF's coverage. On a second-quarter touchdown, Pike fired a 2-yard quick out to Mardy Gilyard, who then had an opening and was largely untouched en route to a 26-yard score. That drive, which covered 91 yards in 13 plays, was the longest scoring drive USF has given up this season.
Coming into the game, the Bulls had allowed an average of 186.8 passing and 268.2 total yards a game. By halftime, the Bearcats had already amassed 227 yards passing and 281 total. Pike threw to eight different receivers, with Gilyard having four receptions for 98 yards.
For the game, USF allowed 396 total yards, its second-biggest total surrendered this season.
USF finally slowed down Cincinnati's offense in the third quarter, forcing three straight three-and-outs. But the Bearcats put it out of reach early in the fourth when Pike found Connor Barwin for a 1-yard touchdown.
The Bulls also had their problems against the run, allowing an opponent to have more than 100 yards for the fourth straight game. Cincinnati ran for 115 yards with half of them coming in the fourth quarter, as the Bearcats wore time off the clock.