TAMPA — They don't get the prestige or the spotlight of starting on offense or defense, but Skip Holtz has thrown a bone to his proud band of special teams regulars: They get to eat first at team meals.
Holtz calls the group "The Dirty Dozen," and after two solid weeks of big plays, he's hoping for more from a core group of kick-coverage specialists, who recovered a fumbled punt at Notre Dame's 20-yard line Sept. 3 then recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Ball State on Saturday.
"Special teams takes a rare breed," Holtz said. "There's not a lot of glory in special teams, but if we can find a group of 12 to 15 guys that are all backups — I don't want any starters on the Dirty Dozen — if they can play 20 plays a game, over the course of the entire season, they're going to play 250 plays."
That group is led by a pair of junior linebackers — Armando Sanchez, a special teams leader last year and again this fall with seven tackles in two games, and Mike Jeune, a hard-hitting junior college transfer who joined the Bulls in January and has seven tackles. RB Marcus Shaw has three tackles, and S Spencer Boyd made an auspicious debut Saturday, forcing the Ball State fumble on the first play of his career. S Mark Joyce recovered and returned it for a 17-yard touchdown.
Jeune and Boyd helped create the 7-0 lead eight seconds into the game, but Sanchez was right behind on the collision, and LB Reshard Cliett, having had his helmet pop off in making a block, aggressively chased after the play despite his bare head.
"Everybody was going nuts," special teams coordinator Vernon Hargreaves said. "Those are the kinds of things you have to have on that team. You've got to have guys willing to sell out, to give it up because there's going to be a collision. You'd rather be the hammer than the nail."
Hargreaves has his own set of obscure statistics — kickoff coverage guys aim for T-20s, or tackles inside the 20 — to give players specific things to aim for in games. The opening fumble came on such a play, and Shaw had a tackle at the 20 and Sanchez at the 18.
"Some guys, like Armando, that's what they live for," Hargreaves said. "It's so cool to have a guy like that, that really loves doing it. Every play is the end of the world for them."
This and that: USF has scored on nine of 10 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line, but out of 67 schools in BCS automatic-bid leagues, the Bulls are one of five teams that have more field goals (five) than touchdowns (four) in the red zone. … USF women's golf coach Marci Kornegay hired Janice Olivencia, 29, as an assistant. Olivencia, the Big 12 player of the year at Texas in 2002, was the first Puerto Rican to play in the U.S. Women's Open in 2009. … USF hasn't released its 2012 softball scheduled yet, but Florida will play in Tampa on the opening weekend of the season, with national powers Michigan and Florida State also coming to Tampa. … USF baseball coach Lelo Prado could get a big boost from an surprising source: RHP Derrick Stultz, a Wharton graduate who hasn't pitched since 2009, has recovered from shoulder surgery as a fifth-year senior.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.