Special teams play is USFs Achilles heel

While USF’s last three wins were decisive, coach Skip Holtz said special teams play is a concern as the Bulls begin the Big East schedule against Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

USF’s kickoff coverage has struggled lately, allowing 251 yards Saturday against UTEP.

“From a standpoint of the level we’re playing at that is right now, it’s not where it needs to be,” Holtz said. “Right now, that’s our Achilles’ heel kind of as a football team through our first four games, and an area we have to get better in. I don’t think anybody’s pointing fingers. As coaches, we haven’t gotten it done. As coaches, you’re either coaching it or you’re allowing it to happen. Neither one is good.”

Junior Evan Landi will likely be relied on for punt returns against Pittsburgh because sophomore Terrence Mitchell remains out with a concussion. Landi has proved reliable to catch the ball and maintain possession, Holtz said.

“We call him ‘fair catch Landi,'” he said. “He catches the ball.”

Wide receivers Victor Marc, Andre Davis and Stephen Bravo-Brown are other options to fill in as punt returners because of their speed and explosiveness, Holtz said.

Offensive line impresses

Lost in the Bulls’ high-octane offense is an offensive line that has pleased Holtz thus far through four games, giving up just five total sacks.

Coming into the season, the offensive line was one of the Bulls’ biggest question marks after losing tackles Mark Popek and Jamar Bass, as well as center Sampson Genus from last year’s team.

“The offensive line continues to go out there every day and grind without anybody talking about them or mentioning them, so to speak – they’re not the names,” he said. “I continually say that if we robbed a bank and didn’t want anybody to know who we were, we’d become offensive lineman because they sit there with very little exposure, but they’re the guys that really make the wheels on the bus go ‘round.

“They’re the ones with their hands taped and the knee braces on and they’re down in the trenches winning every day. I think those guys are really playing well, especially interior. Chaz Hine, moving him to center has turned out to be a really good move for us from the guard position. We’re getting a lot of productivity out of our center position and then the two guards being Danous Estenor and also Jeremiah Warren.”

Hine and guards Estenor and Warren will do everything they can to protect quarterback B.J. Daniels against the Panthers, who boast a staunch defensive front featuring Brandon Lindsey, who earned second-team All-Big East honors in 2010. Another focal point for the offensive line will be Pittsburgh’s standout starting linebacker, senior Max Gruder, whose 35 tackles leads the Big East.