In Temple’s opening 49-16 loss at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish rushed for 422 yards and five touchdowns. The Owls (2-1) might be facing a team with a comparable running attack when they visit No. 21 South Florida (3-0) on Thursday night in a key American Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
Notre Dame, which had three 100-yard rushers against Temple, is fifth in the nation in rushing, averaging 330.7 yards per game.
USF is 13th, averaging 281.3 per game.
“I think both teams have similarities in the running game,” Temple defensive end Sharif Finch said about Notre Dame and USF.
Like Notre Dame with Brandon Wimbush, USF has an offense operated by a dangerous dual-threat quarterback. USF senior Quinton Flowers, last season’s AAC offensive player of the year, is averaging 307 yards of total offense, including 81.0 rushing.
Senior Darius Tice is averaging a team-best 85.3 rushing yards per game, and classmate D’Ernest Johnson is averaging 71.7.
“With No. 2 [Johnson] and Flowers, they have two very good backs,” Finch said. “They have a mobile quarterback, pretty similar to Notre Dame, and I think Flowers is a special player.”
Last season, the Owls used Haason Reddick, a first-round draft choice of the Arizona Cardinals, as a spy on Flowers during a 46-30 win over the Bulls at Lincoln Financial Field. The 6-foot, 215-pound Flowers had a decent but not dominating game, rushing for 90 yards and a score on 14 carries and completing 11 of 19 passes for 187 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Two years ago, when the Bulls scored a 44-23 home win over Temple, Flowers rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown and completed 15 of 22 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“He is very mobile, is versatile with a strong arm, throws a good deep ball, and is a smart player,” Finch said. “It takes preparation for a player like Flowers, but we will come prepared.”
The Owls, naturally, wouldn’t disclose their strategy on how they will defend Flowers, but they will likely do something similar to what they did last year. Middle linebacker Shaun Bradley has the athletic ability to fill this role.
Of course, Temple’s best defense will be its own running game and controlling the clock. In last year’s win, Temple nearly doubled the Bulls in time of possession, 39:07 to 20:53, and outgained the Bulls on the ground, 209-187.
For this to repeat, Temple will have to do much better in the ground game than it has so far this season. The Owls are averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and 94.3 yards per game. For them to improve, junior Ryquell Armstead might have to have a game similar to what he put up in last season’s meeting, when he rushed for 210 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
Armstead is off to a slow start, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. He is coming off his best game, however, with 91 yards on 17 carries Friday in a 29-21 win over UMass — although 56 of those yards came on the game’s second play from scrimmage.
After scoring 14 TDs last season, he has yet to hit the end zone. For the Owls to pull an upset, that streak will likely have to end, and the Owls will need to keep Flowers in check.
Temple-South Florida by the numbers
0 – Number of wins the visiting team has had in the Temple-USF series. Temple leads the series, 2-1.
767 – Passing yards for Logan Marchi, most in Temple history by a player in his first three starts.
8.3 – The average tackles for loss per game for Temple, which is 17th in the country
32 – Career rushing touchdowns by USF quarterback Quinton Flowers.
3 things to watch
Moving the chains: South Florida has 88 first downs, which is third in the nation. That is an average of 29.3 per game. Conversely, Temple has 55, for an average of 18.3 per game. For the Owls to have a chance to win, they will have to keep USF to around their own first-down average.
Turnover minimum: Temple has had just one turnover and quarterback Logan Marchi has yet to throw an interception. USF has thrown two interceptions but has yet to lose a fumble. Turnovers usually are the difference between winning and losing. The team that continues its low turnover pace will likely be the winner. USF has a plus-6 turnover margin, which is third in the nation. Temple is plus-2.
The third quarter: Under first-year coach Charlie Strong, the Bulls have made great halftime adjustments. USF is outscoring teams 31-0 in the third quarter. Temple has been outscored 17-9 in the third period. So no matter how well Temple does by halftime, the Owls have to be wary about the Bulls in the third quarter.