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Top 5 Performances: Defensive Backs and Special Teams

In the final edition of this series, we are going to look at the top performances from defensive backs and special teams.

Navy v South Florida Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr. /Getty Images

As previously mentioned, USF has had been fortunate to have some talented defensive players come through the university, and that talent pool continues on to the defensive backs. All secondary players were eligible for this list.

After the defensive back list, we will switch to special teams, where once again USF has had a bevy of quality performances.

Honorable Mentions:

Deatrick Nichols vs Memphis 2016 (5 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)

Mike Jenkins vs C. 2007 (6 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU)

Mistral Raymond vs Cincinnati 2010 (10 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBU)

Trae Williams vs UNC 2007 (3 tackles, 1 int, 5 PBU)

#5 Nate Allen vs West Virginia 2007 (11 tackles, 1 INT, 1 fumble recover, 2 PBU)

Once again, we look back to a magical night in USF history with Nate Allen’s Performance vs West Virginia.

As mentioned, USF was able to hold one of the nation’s top offenses for the entire game and Nate Allen helped on his part. Late in the 3rd quarter, West Virginia was driving looking for their first touchdown of the night.

Inside the USF 10 yard line, back up quarterback Jarrett Brown rolls to his right and desperately heaves up a pass to the end zone where Nate Allen is able to come pick it off. He also managed a fumble recovery off a Jerome Murphy strip earlier in the game to cap off his evening.

#4 Deatrick Nichols vs Temple 2017 (3 tackles, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF)

It’s difficult to judge a DB’s performance because sometimes the stat book won’t look as impressive. In the case of Deatrick Nichols, only getting three tackles doesn’t look too great all things considered, but his three caused turnovers are what put him at this spot in this list for me.

He started his night by intercepting Temple QB Logan Marchi, off a great read off a play action pass. On the next drive, Deatrick was on the losing end of a great back shoulder throw that was well defended, but redeemed himself by breaking up a pass a few plays later.

A couple of drives later with Temple pinned within their own five, Nichols chops down a Temple running back who is going out on a swing pass for his second pass break up of the night and couple of plays later, had a fortunate pass tipped to him to set USF up inside the Temple 10 yard line.

His forced fumble came early in the 3rd quarter and was rested after that. After re-watching the film from that game, Nichols had six passes thrown to his side of the field while he was in coverage. He was able to break up two of them, intercept two, one sailed on the receiver, and had great coverage on a back shoulder throw.

It was obvious that Temple quarterbacks did not want to throw to his side of the field during that ballgame.

#3 J.R. Reed vs Houston 2002 (10 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 1 Sack)

One of, if not the greatest player on the defensive side of the ball in USF history, J.R. Reed was the typical ball hawk safety who loved to hit.

A local kid out of Hillsborough High, Reed came to USF and put his name on the record books. He holds records for most career interceptions (18), most interceptions in a season (7), most interceptions in a game (3), most tackles in a game (18), and is top 10 in career tackles with 301. Needless to say, he was very good and his game against Houston was masterful.

The Cougars were not as dangerous as they were in recent years under Dana Dimel, but thanks to J.R. Reed and the Bulls, we can officially add Dana Dimel to the list of coaches fired thanks to USF.

This game was a historical one as the Cougars threw seven (7) interceptions, all by quarterback Nick Eddy. Dimel didn’t pull him after his seven interceptions, nor his two fumbles, which probably lead to his firing.

Back to J.R., who was able to snag two of those interceptions and sack the Houston QB for a seven yard loss late in the first quarter on a beautifully timed blitz.

His two INTs came on back to back drives early in the 3rd quarter, his first being a one handed interception, and his second being a pick 6 but was called back for illegal block in the back.

#2 Nate Allen vs Auburn 2007 (7 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR)

In the immaculate 2007 season, USF stormed up to Jordan-Hare Stadium and upset No. 17 ranked Auburn to add to the wildest season of college football to date.

Nate and the USF defense were able to do just enough to help seal the victory for the Bulls. Two key plays by the defense were Allen’s forced fumble and the interception. His forced fumble came late in the 3rd quarter, with USF trailing 17-14 and Auburn having the ball inside their own 10 yard line.

Auburn QB Brandon Cox tosses to his RB Mario Fannin, who weaves his way thru blockers before Nate Allen knocks the ball loose where the Bulls recover at the Auburn 20. Although Delbert Alvarado shanked the kick, this still caused momentum to shift defensively for the Bulls who forced another fumble the next drive (only for Alvarado to miss again).

His interception occurred late in the 2nd when Auburn was driving into USF territory. Auburn QB Brandon Cox makes a critical error and throws an errant pass towards the end zone, where Allen comes down with the ball.

Once again the offense doesn’t capitalize, but it did prevent a scoring situation for Auburn, leading to USF getting this key upset.

#1 J.R. Reed vs Memphis 2002 (7 tackles, 3 INT, 1 FR, 3 PBU, 2 total touchdowns)

Back to the big man, J.R. Reed saved his best USF performance for his last.

In the final game of the season, and the last game under FCS, USF defeated a decent Memphis squad in Memphis. Reed did everything this game to ensure USF would get this victory having a 96 yard kick off return for a touchdown, a fumble recovery for a touchdown, a school record three interceptions, and some relentless hitting all game long.

What set J.R. Reed apart from other DBs was his ability to read and understand the plays as they developed. He could read a quarterback’s eyes like a children’s book and knew exactly where the ball was going at all times. He knew when he needed to go up and high point the ball, or when he needed to lay the wood.

His highlights are filled with incredible plays of athleticism and intelligence, and anyone who was able to watch him play at USF was lucky to see it in action.

His kickoff return for a touchdown displayed his field vision and his speed, which were underrated parts of his game and the reason that some consider him the best player in USF history.

Now to move on to special teams, which was difficult to write about because of how vast special teams can be.

Between punters flipping the field, kickers scoring long field goals, and return men having clutch returns, the list could have very easily been 10 performances deep.

Honorable Mentions:

P Devin Sanderson vs Arkansas 2002 (9 punts, 416 yards, 46.2 avg, school record 72 yard punt)

P Jonathan Hernandez vs Tulane 2017(4 punts, 199 yards, school record 49.8 avg, long 61 yards)

KR Lindsey Lamar vs Louisville 2010 (100 yard kick off return for a touchdown, School record)

P Mattias Ciabatti vs FSU 2015 (10 punts, 445 yards, 44.5 avg, long 56)

#5 KR Mike Jenkins vs Cincinnati 2007 (5 returns for 192 yards, 100 yard kick off return for a TD)

We start this list with one of the great defensive players to play for USF who narrowly missed out on my list for top defensive back performances.

Jenkins had a fantastic night against Cincinnati in 2007. totaling 5 kick off returns and bringing one of them back 100 yards for a touchdown. Ironically, his kickoff return for a touchdown sparked the other team’s performance.

After Cincinnati tied the game 7-7 in the first quarter, Jenkins took the ensuing kick back to the house to bring the score to 14-7 Bulls. Then the wheels fell of the wagon with a field goal by Cincinnati, followed by a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, a Matt Grothe pick six, and then a quick drive to bring the score to 31-14 at the end of the first quarter.

The game ended up being closer than expected with the final score being 38-33, but Mike Jenkins did his part this game as the return man, getting at least 24 yards a return (if you don’t count the KO return for a TD). Unfortunately, the only video I can find is...

#4 P Mattias Ciabatti vs UConn 2014 (6 punts, 248 yards, 41.3 avg, 5 IN20, Long 61)

A very ugly game in the forgettable 2014 season, USF defeated UConn 17-14 in a damp, wet, moist, disgusting contesr filled with unexciting moments and overall bad offensive play.

Ciabatti, however, had a fantastic game punting, even with the wet conditions. All but one of his punts landed within the 20, four of those landing inside the 10, and had a 61 yard booming kick that pinned UConn at their own three yard line.

That punt led to UConn getting a three and out and USF having the ball in Husky territory to kick a game sealing field goal. The only punt that didn’t end up inside the 20 yard line was muffed and recovered by UConn for a loss of punt return yards.

This game was a classic example of punters winning football games with field positioning (and Bobby Eveld almost blowing the game throwing a pick-six).

#3 USF Special Teams unit vs Cincinnati 2013

I’m going with an entire unit for this because the special teams and defensive units essentially won this game for USF single handedly.

On the second play of the game, Marcus Shaw fumbled to set Cincinnati up inside the USF 25 yard line. But the field goal block team blocked an attempt, allowing Nate Godwin to scoop it up for a 75-yard return for a touchdown.

Marvin Kloss had a wonderful night as well, going 4/4 with kicks made from 25, 52, 24, and 40 yards. Ciabatti, not to be outdone, had five punts for 225 yards and an incredibly 68 yarder that pinned Cincinnati inside their own 10 yard line. The Bearcats fumbled on their next possession, with DeDe Lattimore returned it for a TD.

In total, USF’s defense and special teams scored all 26 points for Willie Taggart’s first win as a USF Bull. Ironically, USF’s offense failed to get anything going, while the defense stole the show.

#2 K Maikon Bonani vs Syracuse 2012 (5/5 Field Goals, 3/3 XP, long 47 yards, 18 points)

USF has had a wealth of great kickers in the past. The Gramaticas, Kloss, Nadelman, almost every year, USF seems to lack the struggle of having a good place kicker that some schools seem to have (knocking on wood here).

Bonani came to USF and shattered records in the kicking game. He holds the school record for most field goals made in his career with 69 (nice), which nearly doubled Santiago Gramatica’s record of 38 at the time.

For a short time, he held the record for most points accounted for in a game with 18 points against Syracuse in 2012. He was a perfect five for five on field goals, from distances of 35, 32, 46, 41, and 47.

His last kick of 47 would have been extremely clutch, coming with less than 1:30 left in the game and USF winning 33-31, ensuring that Syracuse’s only hope of winning this game in regulation would be with a touchdown.

Alas, USF Blew a 23-3 halftime score to lose on the final play of the game when Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib found Alec Lemon for a one-yard touchdown for the Orange to win the game 37-36. Not the most glorious of games to make history for.

#1 K Emilio Nadelman vs Temple 2017 (5/5 Field goals, 4/4 XP, Long 44, 19 points)

Emilio came to USF in 2014 and sat behind Marvin Kloss, watching him kick big field goals and followed in the lineage of great USF kickers.

In the three years Emilio kicked at USF, he amassed 43 field goals made, good for second all time. He also holds the record for the most field goals made in a season with 21 in 2017.

He didn’t miss a field goal in 2016 and has the highest career field goal percentage in USF history with 78.2% of FG made. Although he missed a few games due to injury, if he was healthy and had another year, he would’ve certainly surpassed Maikon Bonani’s record for most career FG’s made.

His game against Temple in 2017 sealed him in the record books with the most points accounted for in contest with 19. His field goals totaled 44, 28, 25, 37, and 44 yards, while also adding four perfect extra points.

Fortunately for USF, Emilio has stayed on as a GA for this upcoming season to bring some wisdom to this young Special Teams group in the 2018 season.