After four games, many questions remain for Temple

Temple South Florida Football
South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers runs past Temple’s Jacob Martin during the second half Thursday.

TAMPA, Fla. — Things can change, obviously — the Temple Owls are only a third of the way through the season, after all — but some conclusions can be made after their 2-2 start.

Through their 43-7 loss Thursday night at South Florida in the opening American Athletic Conference game for both teams, the Owls have shown they can’t hang with elite teams but can beat teams they are expected to beat.

In two games against teams that were ranked at the time, Notre Dame and South Florida, Temple lost by a combined 92-23 score. Their victories have come over Villanova and Massachusetts.

The admirable part after Thursday’s loss is that there was no finger-pointing and the defense had plenty of reason to do it after the offense committed six turnovers, giving an already explosive South Florida offense consistently good field position.

Speaking outside the locker room, Temple players kept insisting that the team hasn’t lost its confidence, and pointed to last year when they turned things around.

“It really comes down to the seniors,” said senior defensive end Jacob Martin, who had a strip-sack of quarterback Quinton Flowers and returned the fumble 44 yards for the Owls’ only score. “We have been through this before.”

He talked about last year’s 34-27 loss at Memphis that dropped the Owls to 3-3. Temple then won seven straight, including a 34-10 victory over Navy in the AAC title game.

“You can always bounce back,” Martin said. “That was a tough loss against Memphis, and this feels the same way.”

There are many differences between last year and this season, however. Last year, Temple’s offense was guided by fourth-year starter Phillip Walker, who had the most career wins of any Owls quarterback, 28. This year, Temple appeared to settle on redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi at quarterback, but used three QBs in the first half against South Florida. Marchi, who had not thrown an interception in his first three games, was picked off three times by the speedy Bulls.

Most of the conversation this week will be about whether Marchi retains his starting spot or if Todd Centeio, Frank Nutile, or even redshirt freshman Anthony Russo — the only quarterback who hasn’t seen action this season — can wrestle the job away.

That’s only one of the problems.

The receivers, supposed to be one of the team’s strengths, have dropped too many passes.

The running game, after a minus-4 yard effort against South Florida, is averaging 2.1 yards per carry.

The run defense continues to struggle. Granted, Temple put its defense in a terrible position, giving South Florida great field position with the half-dozen turnovers, but the Owls still allowed 312 yards rushing and four touchdowns. The Bulls averaged 5.0 yards per carry.

Against Notre Dame and South Florida, Temple has allowed 734 rushing yards (6.8 avg.) and nine touchdowns.

Temple showed it could be competitive, if not victorious, against quality teams in 2016. There has been no evidence of that through four games this season.

The good news for the Owls is they’re unlikely to face any teams better than Notre Dame or South Florida, although next Saturday’s opponent, Houston, is a major AAC West Division contender.