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Kicking game a question mark for Bulls

During the 1991 Super Bowl in Tampa, Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood missed a last-second field goal, giving the New York Giants a 20-19 win. ‘Wide right’ will always be synonymous with kicking mistakes by Florida State in its rivalry with Miami. But what is the importance of kicking when it isn’t for the win with seconds ticking?

For South Florida, it means 17 points that haven’t made their way to the scoreboard. Santiago Gramatica, USF’s freshman kicker, has connected on only 28 percent (2-of-7) of his field goal opportunities. His two field goals came inside the 30-yard line – with a long of 27 – but he has also missed two from the same distance, as well as two from inside the 40-yard line and one from 43 yards out.

Now, every kick is different. The wind can blow the ball off course, or there is the possibility of a bad snap, causing the placement to be off, but a kicker needs to be otherwise solid when he’s called upon, especially when inside the 30-yard line. Now, it’s time for Gramatica to make the changes necessary to fill the role he’s been placed in.

Saturday’s game did spark a noticeable change in his kickoffs, starting in the first quarter as shaky and short and becoming long and confident after a brief meeting with USF coach Jim Leavitt. Leavitt maintains the utmost confidence in the young kicker and has said that he showed a tremendous amount of improvement during the UConn game.

“I was especially proud of Santiago Gramatica,” Leavitt said. “I usually don’t jump on him too much and I didn’t for a while, but when he kicked the one kickoff bad, I hugged him really hard and told him to have some courage and that he better wake up and get going.”

Then there’s the other type of kicker, the man who sees defenders barreling in on him as he tries to get the ball away. That doesn’t always work. For USF, the person who had those duties for the first six games was Devin Sanderson, who’s averaged 40.6 yards per punt this season. The problem here occurred when Sanderson suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter against UConn. Sanderson won’t be playing Saturday, so the Bulls are left with a major question mark – who will fill the job?

The third piece of this puzzle is freshman Justin Geisler, who will not practice until today due to a groin injury that will probably keep him from filling in as the punter.

Right now, Leavitt says Gramatica will take on all the kicking duties against Southern Utah. But the Bulls do have other options. There is another member of the team with punting experience, though his position doesn’t indicate it.

In the North Texas game, junior quarterback Marquel Blackwell pinned the Mean Green inside their own 10-yard line with a quick kick on fourth down. The Bulls may call on Blackwell again if they find themselves out of field goal range on their opponents’ side of the field.

Another option may be freshman wide receiver Jason Bingham, who was warming up for a fourth-quarter punt if necessary in the UConn game. Bingham split time between wide receiver and punter while in high school.

“He’s my ace in the hole,” Leavitt said about the possibility of having Bingham punting. “During the second (quarter of the UConn game) I grabbed Jason Bingham. We really had no kicker.”We were going to use Jason. When he started warming up, that’s when Santiago, I think, got a little nervous and came up to me and said, ‘Coach, I can get it done.'”

This week may be the crossroads in Gramatica’s first year. With the possibility of all kicking responsibilities falling on him this Saturday, this is more than a hit or miss opportunity.

  • Jarrett Guthrie covers football and can be reached at