Last season the Bulls upset a then 21st ranked Temple team 44-23 at Raymond James Stadium, but the Owls had the last laugh when they were able to represent the AAC East in the conference championship game. This year the roles are reversed and the Bulls are the favorite to win, with the game being played in Philadelphia on Temple’s turf. The two teams have only met twice before with USF traveling to the Owls’ home field, Lincoln Financial Stadium, in 2012. The Bulls lost that game 37-28, but balanced the scales with their victory last year.
While the Bulls have said from day one that their focus is always on the opponent they are playing that week, there seems to be a bit of resentment in some of the players’ voices while preparing for Temple. Last season saw the Owls represent the AAC East and play against the Houston Cougars in the conference championship. The Bulls felt as if they were snubbed after being the only team to beat every opponent from the East and missed a chance at a shot for the conference title. That’s why the team has made it a point to focus on each individual opponent every week; making the conference championship their lone goal.
“Temple is a very good team. We’re not looking past them in any sort of way and it is a little personal,” said junior center Cameron Ruff. “We’re both at the top of our division, so this game matters a lot to see who is going to take the lead in this division.”
USF head coach Willie Taggart spoke with his players this week to remind them about the disappointment they felt when Temple was able to play against Houston for the conference championship.
“Whoever wins this game can take the lead on this side of the conference,” said Taggart. “We just talked about the feeling we all had when Temple and Houston was playing in the American Athletic Conference championship game and we’re here practicing for a bowl. They were all disgusted and ticked off, but we understand that we have to do more to get what we want. Temple earned what they got last year. It wasn’t a fluke that they earned it last year, they’re a good football team. Going up there and winning a football game is how you earn it.”
This Temple team has taken a step back from the team that they were last year, but was able to hold onto some of their pieces from last year. Senior quarterback Philip Walker has had his share of issues on the field this year, but has thrown for 1582 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Walker has looked to spread the ball around the field more often as the Owls have seven players with at least 10 receptions and 100 receiving yards. In comparison, the Bulls only have four players that meet that criteria, but they do have three players that have totaled over 100 receiving yards with less than 10 receptions, whereas the Owls don’t have a single one.
Unfortunately for Walker, he has thrown 10 interceptions on the season, more than any other quarterback in the AAC and two more than his total from last season. One issue that may be causing the Owls’ quarterback his unfortunate touchdown to interception ratio is the fact that Temple is tied for third in the conference in sacks allowed with 18.
“I’m not going to knock their O-line. They’re a really, really good offensive line; they’re really physical,” said Bulls junior defensive tackle Deadrin Senat about the Owls’ offensive line. “I feel like the game is going to be won with the lines; our D-line and our O-Line.”
The 305-pound Senat is one of the leading tacklers on the ‘Bull Shark’ defense and has four tackles for loss, tying him for third on the team with fellow defensive tackle Kevin Bronson. Senat missed last season’s game against Temple and knows that he will have to study his opponent before Friday night’s game.
“One thing that pops out to me about their offense is that they rotate, you see different guys in. How are your lineman going to get the feel of it when they play four or five plays,” said Senat about what he learned from watch tape on the Owls’ offensive line. “That’s that one thing that stuck out to me because I’m trying to key in on a guy’s weaknesses; one minute he’s here and the next quarter he’s not in.”
While the Bulls’ defense will look to slow Temple’s offensive efforts, it is the Owl’s passing defense that will be concerning to the Bulls. The Owls have attempted to institute a “no fly zone” with their passing defense, holding opposing teams to a total of just 1,167 passing yards through seven games this season. That is good enough to be considered first in the conference and 11th in the nation for passing defenses.
The numbers that are presented can be deceiving though, if you take a look at the teams that the Owls have played up to this point. Only one of the seven teams that Temple has faced this season has a passing offense that is ranked in the top half of the 128 teams in the FBS. In fact, their first game of the season was against Army; the last ranked passing team who has only attempted 53 passes and completed just half of them this season.
This isn’t to say that the Owls don’t actually have a quality pass defense, seeing as how they have seven interceptions to their credit. The Bulls will without a doubt be their toughest test up to this point though.
While South Florida has a better passing offense than any of the other team that Temple has faced up to this point, the Bulls will continue to run the ball. USF is one of seven teams in the nation to have two different players run for 500 yards or more, junior running back Marlon Mack and junior quarterback Quinton Flowers.
The “nine-to-five” duo of Flowers and Mack is a major reason as to why USF leads the nation with 11 consecutive 35+ point and 440+ yard games. The tandem attack totaled 264 yards on the ground in the Bulls’ victory over UConn and the Huskies’ 11th ranked rushing defense.
While Temple may be averaging 32 points a game, they have not squared off against a top 10 offense and will be hard pressed to utilize their pass defense if the Bulls choose to run the ball, which they will. Expect to see the Bulls pound the football on the ground as much as possible and look to catch the Owls’ secondary off guard on the play-action passes deep to Rodney Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.