TAMPA — There weren't too many things that went wrong for USF during a 59-14 victory against I-AA Stony Brook, but there is one aspect coach Skip Holtz said needs a lot of improvement: special teams.
Though the Bulls looked impressive on offense and defense, special teams slipups came more often than Holtz hoped for, including two that led to first-quarter touchdowns and kept the Seawolves in the game.
"Right now … the thing that we're going to have to make some huge improvements on is in the special teams," Holtz said. "They say the most progress you make is from Game 1 to Game 2. That's where we're really going to have to make some huge strides."
And USF has a fairly large leap in one week, facing a trip to Gainesville on Saturday to play No. 4 Florida. If the Bulls want to be successful, Holtz said, they'll have to eliminate the mistakes made against Stony Brook, which included mishandled punts, kickoffs out of bounds and errant snaps.
"Those mistakes are going to cost you in not just a quote-unquote Florida game. They're going to cost you in any close football game," Holtz said. "Those are the types of mistakes that will get you beat. You're finding a way to lose making those mistakes instead of just playing solid, fundamental, hard-nosed football."
USF mishandled three of its first four punt returns with the first making a big impact.
USF seemed like it had early momentum, getting a touchdown on its first drive and stopping Stony Brook on its second possession. But senior Faron Hornes fumbled on the Bulls 35. Two plays later, the Seawolves tied it at 7.
After the Bulls were stopped on their next possession, another special teams mishap led to Stony Brook points. On fourth and 13 from the USF 42, junior long snapper Michael Walsh's low snap forced redshirt sophomore Justin Brockhaus-Kann to field it with a knee touching the ground. Stony Brook got the ball at the Bulls 27 and had a 14-7 lead one play later.
Sophomore linebacker Armando Sanchez, a graduate of St. Petersburg's Northeast High who was USF's special teams captain, said he believed first-game jitters might have contributed to the problem.
"Special teams is important in any aspect. It doesn't matter who you play," he said. "But (against) Florida, it's going to be really important, and the coaches are trying to reiterate how important special teams are. You can live with it, but you still have to correct your mistakes."
Because of the mishandled punts, Holtz gave redshirt freshman walk-on Jonny Sitton, a graduate of Largo's Indian Rocks Christian, a chance to return. But after a 30-yard return, he also muffed a punt.
In the second half, Holtz put in freshman cornerback Terrence Mitchell, a Hillsborough High graduate, and said he's likely to get the call against the Gators.
"He's the only one that didn't drop one," Holtz said.