Temple at No. 21 USF: Owls look to defend AAC title vs. this season's favorite

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Temple at No. 21 USF: Owls look to defend AAC title vs. this season's favorite

Temple (2-1, 0-0 AAC) vs. No. 21 South Florida (3-0, 0-0 AAC)
Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, Florida
Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

It was another disjointed effort last week for Geoff Collins’ Temple team, but, when the horn sounded, it was another notch in the win column.

Things got hairy again for the Owls —  just as they did the prior week vs. Villanova — and Temple had to fend off an underwhelming UMass team for a 29-21 victory last week at the Linc.

But the mood is about to change.

That’s because the Owls on Thursday have a date in Tampa vs. AAC heavyweight No. 21 South Florida.

Head coach Charlie Strong —  formerly of Texas — and the Bulls, the preseason AAC champion pick and the “Group of Six” darling among many pundits, are 3-0 on the season and are coming off a 47-23 romp over Illinois last week.

The Bulls are an offensive juggernaut, having scored 120 points over their first three games. They’ve also scored at least 30 points in their last 20 games, the longest such streak in the nation.

Needless to say, the Owls are in for a stern test.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

Scouting Temple
Even though true freshman Todd Centeio took a handful of snaps and helped move the ball last week, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi is still the guy for Temple at the QB spot. Last week vs. UMass, Marchi had his best showing to date, going 22 for 37 with 248 yards and three touchdown tosses. Starts to games haven’t necessarily been the best for Marchi as taking time to settle in has been a prevalent theme throughout his first three contests. A sound start for Marchi will be imperative in a hostile environment on Thursday. On the season, Marchi has thrown for 767 yards and five TDs.

Marchi has spread the ball around this season, as the Owls have four wideouts with over 100 yards receiving — Keith Kirkwood (185), Isaiah Wright (180), Adonis Jennings (146) and Ventell Bryant (107). Bryant’s numbers come in just two games as he missed the opener vs. Notre Dame with a hamstring injury. While Wright led the way last week with four grabs for 69 yards andaa TD, Kirkwood has been Marchi’s favorite target. The 6-foot-3 senior has 12 grabs and two TDs on the season.

The Owls’ running game has yet to get our of its early-season funk. Junior Ryquell Armstead broke off a 56-yarder last week, but still just finished with 35 yards on his other 16 carries.  He’s Temple’s leading rusher this year with 177 yards. The Owls have just 283 yards (113th in the nation) on the ground through two games and just a single rushing touchdown — a 1-yard dive by fullback Nick Sharga.

To say the Temple defense has been inconsistent this year would be an understatement. After the Owls were scorched on the ground by Notre Dame in the opener to the tune of 422 yards and 5 TDs, the last two games have seen the Owls get carved up through the air. Through three games, Temple is 119th in the land with 488.7 yards allowed per game. The Owls are 116th in the nation with 1466 total yards allowed and 120th with 943 passing yards allowed. Needless to say, there better be some improvement this week or things could get ugly … fast.

Scouting South Florida
South Florida’s prolific offense, which is averaging 40 points per game over the first three contests of the season, is lead by star senior QB Quinton Flowers, just as it has been for the last several seasons. Flowers is the Bulls’ motor that can send them into overdrive at the blink of an eye. This season, the shifty Flowers has thrown for 678 yards and eight TDs. A steady threat with his legs, Flowers has also rushed for 243 yards and two TDs. He’s got a history of being a thorn in the Owls’ side. In South Florida’s 2015 win over Temple, Flowers threw for 230 yards and two TDs while rushing for 90 yards and another score. Last season, he threw for two more scores while rushing for 90 more yards and a touchdown.

Flowers is a legit rushing threat to the point where Temple deployed Haason Reddick as the QB spy when the teams met last season. But Flowers is only the second leading rusher on the Bulls. The top spot belongs to senior Darius Tice, who’s finally getting a chance to be a lead back as Marlon Mack has moved on to the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts. This season, Tice has 256 yards and four scores on the ground

On the outside, senior wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling is the Bulls’ leading receiver with 202 total yards and two TDs. Last week vs. Illinois, he had four grabs for 96 yards and a TD. Temple’s secondary needs to be wary.

There are points to be had on South Florida’s defense, which allows a smidge under 21 points per game. The Bulls are known to let up yardage through the air as they give up 234 per game, in the bottom tier of the nation. It adds to why Temple needs to get Marchi into a rhythm early Thursday night. If the Temple passing game gets going early, Kirkwood, Jennings, Bryant and crew could find favorable matchups and do some damage. On the other hand, Thursday may not be the best time for Armstead and the rushing game to scoot out of the rut they’ve been stuck in. The Bulls’ rushing defense is stout, giving up just 89.3 yards per game, good for 14th in the nation during the young season.

History
Thursday evening will mark the fourth all-time meeting between Temple and South Florida in a series that dates back to 2012. The Owls hold a 2-1 series advantage, including a win in the last meeting — a 46-30 decision last October in Philadelphia.

Storyline to watch: Can Temple slow a speedy QB?
In recent years under Matt Rhule and former defensive coordinator Phil Snow, the Owls had stingy defenses, but those stingy defenses would have their struggles, sometimes mighty struggles, against QBs who were adept at using their legs.

While the core group of those players have moved on, there is still evidence that the same issue sticks within these Owls. In the season opener, Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush burnt the Owls for 106 yards and a TD on the ground.

While things have settled some with Temple’s rushing defense over the past two weeks, the unit hasn’t faced a mobile QB during that time. Flowers is an entirely different animal who can change a game with his legs in the blink of an eye. It’s almost like pick your poison. Is Temple going to let Flowers attempt to beat them with his arm or legs? It can’t be both, because he can use both with the best of them.

What’s at stake: AAC East supremacy
South Florida is the AAC darling this season, but the fact of the matter is that Temple, while flush with brand new faces, is still the defending conference champ and the two-time division champ.

The Owls can stake their claim to being a legit threat and make a statement in the AAC. Or they can have a statement made at their expense.

Prediction
With the way South Florida has been steamrolling teams and the experience edge, especially at quarterback, the Bulls just have too much talent and will assert dominance in this one. They will just overwhelm the young Owls.

South Florida 38, Temple 23

Temple vs. UMass: Owls' chance for momentum under the lights

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Temple vs. UMass: Owls' chance for momentum under the lights

Temple (1-1, 0-0 AAC) vs. Massachusetts (0-3, Independent)
Lincoln Financial Field
Friday, 7 p.m., ESPNU

 
It was far from easy and there were many bruises to heal this week, but Temple secured its first win of the Geoff Collins era last week when the Owls held on for dear life against a scrappy Villanova squad for a 16-13 victory.
 
Now, less than a week later, the Owls return to the Linc under the bright Friday night lights to face off against a struggling UMass squad.
 
Head coach Mark Whipple’s Minutemen have stumbled out of the gate to an 0-3 record that includes losses to Hawaii, Coastal Carolina and Old Dominion. In those three games, the Minutemen have given up a total of 93 points.
 
This is clearly a prime opportunity for the Owls to get some needed momentum in all phases.
 
Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:
 
Scouting Temple
While it certainly wasn’t the most polished performance, redshirt sophomore quarterback Logan Marchi looked more comfortable in the pocket last week against Villanova. Sure, the FCS Wildcats aren’t the Notre Dame team Marchi went up against in Week 1. But he was still making better decisions and reads. Last week, he went 20 of 34 for 274 yards and also executed a near flawless two-minute drive at the end of the first half that gave Temple its only TD of the day. He still needs to get rid of the ball more frequently when he’s in trouble and not take a sack or force a throw, but that will come in time for a young QB.
 
Marchi was aided by the return of junior wideout Ventell Bryant, last season’s leading receiver, who missed the Nore Dame game with a hamstring injury. In his season debut, Bryant reeled in seven catches for 79 yards on the day, including a spectacular one-handed snag as the Owls drove and kicked a field goal to take the 16-13 lead that held. Senior Keith Kirkwood leads the Owls with eight grabs for 121 yards and a TD this season.
 
Collins admitted the workload of running back Ryquell Armstead was limited last week as the junior suffered an undisclosed injury the prior week at Notre Dame. With that, the Owls’ rushing attack was stifled for the second consecutive game. Temple had just 79 yards on 22 carries last week. Thought to be a strength coming into the season, Temple rushers have just 164 yards on 64 carries on the season.
 
The Temple defense has been a Jekyll and Hyde show the first two weeks of the season. After getting scorched by the Notre Dame ground game for 422 yards and five touchdowns out in South Bend, the Owls smothered the Wildcats for just 20 yards on 30 carries last week. But after holding the Irish in check through the air with just 184 yards, the Owls had no answer for Villanova QB Zach Bednarczyk and his 382 passing yards on 27 attempts last week. So, what exactly is the problem with Temple’s defense? Or, even worse, is there more than one problem?

Scouting Massachusetts
Offense hasn’t been the issue for the Minutemen, who are averaging 23.3 points over their first three contests. Junior QB Andrew Ford has been efficient, throwing for 827 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception so far this season. Last week vs. Old Dominion, he went 21 of 32, for 236 yards and a score. He did go over 300 yards in the loss to Coastal Carolina two weeks ago.
 
Junior tight end Adam Breneman has been Ford’s favorite target on the season. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder has recorded two games of over 100 yards receiving on the season already — 179 yards on nine grabs vs. Hawaii and 126 yards on nine more catches vs. Coastal Carolina. His 323 yards on the season are already almost halfway to his total from last season.
 
Junior Marquis Young has been the lead horse at running back for the Minutemen. He’s rushed for 149 yards and four TDs this season. Those four TDs already match his total from all of last season. The guy knows how to find the end zone as he’s got 15 TDs over his first two seasons and change at the collegiate level.
 
The UMass defense … well, let’s just say it’s not great. The unit gave up 38 points and 513 yards of total offense, including 391 through the air to Hawaii three weeks ago. That included a seven-yard TD pass with 48 seconds left that sealed the win for the Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii WR John Ursa had 272 receiving yards that day. But much like Temple, UMass followed it up the next week by getting torched in a different way — on the ground by Coastal Carolina, to the tune of 321 rushing yards. While the Minutemen were better against ODU last week, they still present a chance for Marchi and the rest of the Temple offense to get rolling. That said, senior linebacker and Towson transfer Bryton Barr is a player to keep an eye on. He leads UMass with 44 tackles on the season and can disrupt plays.
 
History
Friday evening will mark just the second meeting between Temple and UMass, which joined the FBS level in 2011.
 
The Owls took the first meeting, a wild 25-23 victory at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, home of the New England Patriots. On that September day in 2015, the heavily-favored Owls were as flat as could be all afternoon long and were on the verge of getting upset by the Minutemen. That was until a late UMass extra-point attempt was blocked and the Owls returned it for a two-point conversion that cut the Minutemen’s lead to 23-22 with 1:20 left. QB Phillip Walker led the Owls down the field on the ensuing drive and Austin Jones nailed a 32-yard field goal with seven seconds left to give Temple the win.
 
If that late comeback doesn’t take place, who knows what road Temple’s 2015 dream season that included the nationally televised primetime showdown with Notre Dame at the Linc and College Gameday at Independence Mall takes?
 
Storyline to watch: Where’s the improvement in Week 3?
The first two weeks have clearly been a feeling-out process for Collins, a first-year head coach, and his Owls, who are in the midst of replacing a four-year starter at QB and seven starters from a ferocious 2016 defense.
 
As expected, there have been some lumps over the first few weeks. But Friday marks the third game of the new era and, with all due respect to these Minutemen, this UMass team offers a chance for the Owls to take steps in the right direction in many areas. Can Marchi get more comfortable in his new role? Can the rushing game finally get on track? Can the defense begin to form some type of identity?
 
Temple better hope a few questions are answered Friday because there will be no room for error next week …
 
What’s at stake: Momentum before next week’s huge test at South Florida.
Temple needs to get the momentum rolling this week because the sternest test of the season looms ahead — next week at conference favorite No. 22 South Florida.
 
The young Owls can ill-afford to fall flat on their faces Friday against an underwhelming UMass team and then head to Tampa on yet another short week Thursday with the confidence waning.
 
That’s like losing half the battle right there. And facing the Bulls, especially in Tampa, is already hard enough.
 
Prediction
Though the Owls have yet to find their groove in many areas this season, they still have way too much talent for this UMass team to deal with. The Owls should win this one pretty handily.
 
Temple 34, Massachusetts 13

No cupcake here: Temple barely survives feisty Villanova

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No cupcake here: Temple barely survives feisty Villanova

BOX SCORE

Pop quiz: what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear an FCS team is visiting an FBS team on any given weekend?

Mismatch?

Blowout?

Cupcake?

Don’t tell that to FCS No. 6 Villanova. And surely don’t tell that to Temple, which got all it could handle and more while barely surviving the Wildcats on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field (see observations).

A defensive struggle turned spicy late as Villanova’s fourth-quarter rally was snuffed out by a two-minute drive led by redshirt sophomore QB Logan Marchi and a 49-yard winning field goal off the foot of Aaron Boumerhi with a minute left, both of which propelled the Owls to a 16-13 victory over their rivals from the Main Line.

Temple improved to 1-1 on the young season after last week’s shellacking at Notre Dame. Villanova fell to 1-1 on the campaign.

It was far, far from pretty, but it was the first win in the head coaching career of Temple’s Geoff Collins.

“That’s a really good football team we just played against,” a relieved Collins said after the game. “There’s no doubt they should be ranked in their division — a really good team. They fought till the very end. I thought they had some really good second-half adjustments.”

Both teams slogged through this one for the better part of three quarters and change.

The only time the announced 35,117 in the crowd came to their feet in the first three quarters was when Marchi, who ended up with 274 passing yards on the day, executed a flawless eight-play, 75-yard two-minute drill that led to fullback Nick Sharga’s TD plunge from a yard out with a single second left in the first half to give the Owls a 10-0 lead.

On that drive, Marchi threw for 77 yards on five completions, including a tipped pass that was caught by Ventell Bryant for 15 yards, a 32-yard strike over the middle to Isaiah Wright and a 17-yard throw to a diving Adonis Jennings, who hauled in the fastball at the Villanova 1-yard line with :05 left on the clock.

Sharga scored on the next play.

It was an important cushion the Owls wound up needing in the end.

“We knew we had to move the ball down the field there and that’s kind of our offense, being able to do that and get on the ball,” Marchi said. “We executed those plays well. I’m not going to lie, we had a couple lucky tips there. The one to Ventell ended up getting tipped and he made a great play on that. Getting the ball to those players there is what we need to do.”

“We practice that every other day,” Collins said of the end-of-half scramble to the endzone. “We go ‘Mayday Alert.’ We get something going, we go full speed and try to get points.”

After an uneventful third, things blasted up more than a few notches in fourth.

Early in the final quarter, Villanova senior QB Zach Bednarczyk continued to tear up the Temple pass defense as he had all day long. But this time, the Owls finally broke.

Bednarczyk hit wideout Taurus Phillips in the middle of the endzone on a slant to make it a 13-10 contest with 10:12 left. Things were now officially itchy for the Owls, who had zero answer for Bednarczyk’s arm.

After the rushing attack headed by Matt Gudzak and Aaron Forbes spearheaded a 266-yard effort in the Wildcats’ win over Lehigh last week, it went for just a measly 20 yards on Saturday afternoon against the Owls.

But with the way Bednarczyk was carving up the Temple defense almost effortlessly through the air, who needed a rushing attack?

Bednarczyk went 27 for 41 for 382 yards and the touchdown to Phillips. The Owls were basically at his mercy, especially in the second half when he went 19 for 24 for 284 yards and the TD.

“He’s a lot faster than they give him credit for,” Temple defensive end Sharif Finch said of Bednarczyk. “He’s pretty elusive and he has a good arm. So I think they have a great quarterback. He handled his business today.”

It was an interesting dynamic that played out on the field for the Temple defense.

Last week, the Owls’ defense was scorched by Notre Dame's rushing attack to the tune of 422 yards and five touchdowns. It was the complete opposite story Saturday. Sure, Villanova isn’t Notre Dame, but Temple’s defense struggled miserably against the pass on Saturday.

But Collins was quick to give credit to what the Wildcats did.

“Their quarterback is really savvy,” Collins said of Bednarczyk and the Villanova passing attack, both of which haunted his team all day long. “He was able to be slippery and make plays. I give credit to them. “

The Wildcats continued to assert themselves and their momentum continued to grow in the fourth quarter to the point where a 34-yard Drew Kresge field goal allowed Villanova to tie the game at 13-13 with 3:29 left.

If things were itchy on the Temple sideline before, well, now a rash had officially broken out.

And it was up to Marchi, in just his second career start, to lead the offense late in an effort to snuff out the Wildcats’ upset bid.

“Guys were coming up to me on the sideline saying, ‘You got this, you got this,’” Marchi said. “In your head, it’s just like practice. You go out and you throw the ball where it needs to be thrown. You run the plays that need to run. The time difference changes the pace of the game, but it doesn’t change your mindset.”

Marchi then went out and engineered a seven-play drive that included a lovely one-handed grab by Bryant, who missed last week’s loss, for 29 yards that got the Owls into Wildcats’ real estate. Bryant led the Owls with seven grabs and 79 yards on the day.

But the drive stalled, putting the responsibility on the shoulders of sophomore kicker Aaron Boumerhi to hit from 49 yards out. He had nailed one from 44 yards earlier in the day, but had also missed wide left from 48 yards.

He stayed true and drilled a career-long field goal with a minute left to put the Owls up 16-13.

“I try not to think about the last kick. It’s a new kick now,” Boumerhi said. “I just wanted to put it through the uprights and help my team win. I knew what I did wrong on the first kick. I was just worried about correcting that.

“I was pretty nervous… It was the first time I ever had to make a crucial kick like that with the game on the line.”

But Bednarczyk and the ‘Cats still had a pulse. They had a minute left to punch Temple in the gut and force OT or even leave with the upset, just as they did in 2009 and 2003. Two of Villanova’s three FBS wins have come at the expense of the Owls.

And they drove into Temple territory as the clock trickled down. Bednarczyk hit Gudzak over the middle, but the RB was stripped by Temple linebacker Shaun Bradley and Finch recovered to save the day and wipe the sweat off the collective brow of the cherry and white faithful.

The slugfest was over. But much was learned. What exactly?

The ‘Cats are still a legit FCS threat.

And the Owls have a plethora of things to work on and bumps to smooth out if they want to be taken seriously in the AAC.