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.
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.
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.
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