TAMPA - USF's defense was written off before the season began.
But the Bulls came into Saturday's game with Central Florida with the No. 1 passing defense in the nation. They were eighth in total defense.
South Florida had allowed 26 points and 439 yards in two games, having held Penn State's Michael Robinson to 85 passing yards, then FAMU to 85 total.
On Saturday, the Bulls limited the Golden Knights to 253 yards (45 rushing and 208 passing).
This is essentially the same unit as last year, which was ranked 77th in nation, giving up an average of 398 yards a game and 4,383 yards for the 2004 season.
"Last year was last year," said sophomore linebacker Ben Moffitt, who had four tackles against UCF, for a season total of 15. "We really don't want to worry about that. We learned from our mistakes last year, and we made a lot of them.
"We've been really focused this year, and really try to come out and do something."
The Bulls kept UCF's running game throttled through three quarters as Golden Knights running backs Kevin Smith and Dontavius Wilcox together had just 4 yards.
"We're really seeing some different things," coach Jim Leavitt said. "Last year sometimes, I really just wanted to kick myself. All the linebackers are back, and our corners are playing much better."
Last season saw the departure of Lee Roy Selmon Jr. and Javan Camon, but, Leavitt said, returning linebackers Moffitt and juniors Stephen Nicholas and Patrick St. Louis, as well as Johnnie Jones in the secondary, "really hold together back there."
Also back is defensive end Terrence Royal, who has combined with Tim Jones to rack up 20 tackles and 21/2 sacks.
"It's not just about me and Johnnie returning," said Jones, who redshirted last season. "But I think a lot of the guys matured a lot more. We had a very young team. They matured and that's why they seem like a different defense."
The Big East opener against No. 11 Louisville this week will bring about a new test. Louisville brings a potent offense carried by Michael Bush and Brian Brohm (18-for-22 passing with 368 yards and five touchdowns Saturday against Oregon State).
"That's just another team coming in," Tim Jones said.