TAMPA, Fla. — No. 21 South Florida is still smarting from a loss to Temple that cost the Bulls a chance to play for last season’s American Athletic Conference championship.
The Owls spoke candidly afterward about how they were able to impose their will during a 46-30 upset, leaving USF to wonder what might have been had a leaky defense done a better job stopping the run that night in Philadelphia.
Fast forward 11 months, and the Bulls (3-0) can hardly wait for a rematch Thursday night against the defending AAC champions (2-1) at Raymond James Stadium.
“It’s going to be a very physical game,” USF coach Charlie Strong said. “We know what Temple did to us last year. Some things were said. I just told our players, you can’t worry about last season. We’ve just got to stay locked in, and just go play our game.”
Under the lights on ESPN. The nation will be watching us.
— USF Football (@USFFootball) September 21, 2017
Both teams finished 7-1 in league play last fall, with Temple representing the Eastern Division in the conference title game, where the Owls beat Navy.
USF, meanwhile, hasn’t lost since allowing Temple’s Ryquell Armstead to rush for a career-best 210 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bulls enter Thursday night’s conference opener riding an eight-game winning streak that matches the longest in school history.
First-year Temple coach Geoff Collins said the Owls (2-1), who’ve won two straight after falling 49-16 at Notre Dame on Sept. 2, know it won’t be easy to come into Tampa and win.
Got the W at our ! pic.twitter.com/2Sx2DkdKaS
— Temple Football (@Temple_FB) September 16, 2017
USF routed then-No. 21 Temple here two years ago, handing the Owls their only league loss on the way to the first of two consecutive appearances in the AAC championship game.
“I think they understand the challenge ahead,” said Collins, who replaced Matt Rhule after the former Temple coach moved to Baylor.
“There’s a healthy respect for their players, a healthy respect for their program,” Collins added. “They know what it means to the division. They know what it means to the conference.”
Some things to know about the Bulls and Owls, who’ve won two of three previous meetings between the teams:
USF also has changed coaches since last season’s matchup in Philadelphia, with Strong taking over after Willie Taggart left for Oregon. The Bulls have scored at least 30 points in a nation-leading 20 consecutive games, and Strong thinks he has the makings of a dominant defense, too.
Temple rushed for 319 yards against USF last October. The Bulls think they’re better equipped to contain the run this time.
“We remember,” Bulls cornerback Ronnie Hoggins said. “But it’s a new year, a new defense. We’re improved.”
Owls QB Logan Marchi is the most accomplished passer USF has faced this season. He’s thrown for 787 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions through three games. Armstead had 91 yards rushing in last week’s 29-21 win over Massachusetts, but the Owls haven’t been nearly as effective running the ball this season.
— American Football (@American_FB) September 20, 2017
Strong said USF is preparing to face a balanced attack.
“We have to stop the run,” the Bulls coach said. “If we can force them to throw the football, then that gives us a chance to apply pressure and do the things we can do.”
Hitting his stride
Bulls QB Quinton Flowers accounted for 386 yards and five touchdowns in USF’s 47-23 rout of Illinois last Friday. Last season’s AAC offensive player of the year threw for 280 yards and four TDs, while also rushing for a team-best 106 yards and one TD. RBs Darrius Tice and D’Earnest Johnson joined Flowers in topping 100 yards rushing.
“He’s a really good athlete,” Collins said of Flowers, who last season ranked second in the nation in rushing among quarterbacks behind Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
“Everybody knows that,” the Temple coach continued, “but I think the thing that’s impressive is his poise. … The situation never gets too big for him, and he’s a competitor.”