TAMPA — The University of South Florida is on a two-game winning streak, with impressive special teams playing a crucial role in both victories.
Against Connecticut on Saturday, P Mattias Ciabatti, from Hillsborough High, punted nine times, dropping three of those inside the Huskies’ 20-yard line, helping the Bulls win the field-position battle in a tight second half. Three of his punts netted more than 50 yards.
“It makes me feel good that I’m doing my job,” Ciabatti said. “Specialists aren’t the biggest part of the team, but when we can be a big part of the team, we love it. We do what we can.”
Ciabatti earned attention in the Bulls’ Sept. 28 loss to Miami because of an astonishing 2-yard punt, but he has recovered nicely.
“You have to put it behind you,” he said. “As a kicker or punter, every kick is different. If the first kick is great, you’ve got to forget it. If it’s bad, you’ve got to forget it. There’s no momentum in kicking. ... It was a mental, physical, everything error. The moment I hit it, I knew where it went. I didn’t want to look down, because on ESPN, they would have definitely zoomed in on my face if I hid my face.”
Ciabatti isn’t the only USF specialist making headlines, as K Marvin Kloss earned a spot on this week’s American Athletic Conference Honor Roll. Last week, he was the AAC Special Teams Player of the week.
Kloss and the kickoff team, filled with regular Bulls starters, have limited opposition returns all year, with UConn only averaging 19 yards per return.
“Our punt coverage and kickoff teams are our two most important teams, so we’ll use our best guys,” USF special teams coach Stu Holt said. “It’s very important, and our guys have bought into it. It’s one thing to put them on there, but it’s a whole other thing for them to buy in.”
SHAW, BENCH OUT: RB Marcus Shaw (hamstring) and QB Steven Bench (knee) missed practice Tuesday. Coach Willie Taggart didn’t give a timetable for their return and said he’ll be patient with their injuries and won’t push them to get back before they’re ready.