Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
South Florida's offensive coaches and players had an unusual guest lecturer at their meetings last week: Bulls defensive coordinator Joe Tresey.
Tresey would normally stick to his side of the ball, but he had some precious intel to offer. Before coming to South Florida this offseason, he spent the previous three years as Brian Kelly's defensive coordinator, the last two at Cincinnati. And of course, the Bearcats are coming to Raymond James Stadium Thursday night in a matchup of the Big East's two ranked teams.
"He spent a good half hour with us talking about each individual (on the Cincinnati defense)," Bulls offensive coordinator Mike Canales said. "It was invaluable for us in how we plan on attacking them."
Tresey knows the strengths and weaknesses of just about every Cincinnati defender and spent two years trying to stop Kelly's spread offense in practice. On the flip side, though, Kelly understands all of Tresey's tendencies.
"He knows the way I think and the way I operate," Tresey said. "So I don't know if it will give anybody an advantage per se. We'll have to wait and see. "
The Tresey angle is one of the more intriguing subplots in this week's game. It definitely rated as one of the most surprising developments of the offseason when Tresey was let go by Cincinnati in February, more than a month after the Orange Bowl appearance that his defense went a long way toward securing. Kelly gave a cryptic explanation about differences in philosophy, and he eventually hired Bob Diaco from Virginia to switch to a 3-4 scheme.
Though neither Kelly nor Tresey have ever spoken much publicly about what happened, several sources have confirmed this sequence of events: Tresey interview for the vacant defensive coordinator position at Miami, believed he had the job and told Kelly he was leaving. But after Tresey and Shannon disagreed on details, Kelly had already moved on and decided to hire Diaco. That left Tresey unemployed until he landed the Bulls job after two interviews with Jim Leavitt.
If there are any lingering hard feelings between Tresey and Kelly, neither is saying.
"I'm not downplaying it just to downplay it, " Tresey said. "This has nothing to do with Joe Tresey and the Brian Kelly deal. It's about the kids."
"I've gone against guys before who were coordinators on my staff who went on to be head coaches," Kelly said. "Joe does a great job, and he'll have his defense ready to go. It's not about Joe Tresey or Brian Kelly. It's about our players and how they play."
One thing is for sure: Tresey has the Bulls playing like his old Bearcats in the turnover department.
In 2007 under Tresey, Cincinnati created 42 turnovers. Last year, the Bearcats defense came up with 22. South Florida has gained 16 turnovers this season (nine fumbles and seven interceptions), which is just one fewer than the Bulls had all of last season.
"He emphasizes that day in and day out," safety Nate Allen said. "We do a lot of strip drills and going after the ball at its high point for interceptions. He emphasizes it at practices, meetings and right before we go on the field every day: cause a turnover any way you can."
South Florida ranks fifth nationally in allowing just 9.4 points per game and is 10 in the FBS in total defense.
Tresey will have his biggest challenge of the season this week in trying to figure out how to stop Cincinnati, which ranks third nationally in scoring at 42 points per game. He knows the Bearcats' players as well as anybody. But that only goes so far.
"He told us a couple of things as far as their defensive philosophy," Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels said. "Still, with what he says, we have to go out there and do what we have to do."