Since losing by a combined 63-10 margin in their first two games, the Bulls have won four of six with both losses coming to currently ranked teams. Since a 5-1 start, the Owls have dropped consecutive games to SMU and UCF by an average margin of nearly 30 points.
Thursday’s contest seems like a much bigger game for USF’s Charlie Strong than Temple’s Rod Carey. The good news for the Bulls is that the home team has won every contest in the five-game series that dates back to 2012. The Owls topped South Florida last season in Philadelphia, 27-17.
Temple at South Florida
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 7 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Temple -2
When Temple Has the Ball
The Owls are largely unspectacular on offense, but quarterback Anthony Russo has a big arm. The problem has been consistency. Russo has struggled in recent weeks but has limited the turnovers this season. Temple actually does have a nice corps of skill players; freshman Re’Mahn Davis and senior Jager Gardner have combined for 1,060 rushing yards rushing and 10 touchdowns.
Temple isn’t deep at the pass-catching positions but has three different players with more than 40 receptions. Junior Branden Mack leads the team with 629 receiving yards, while sophomore Jadan Blue has 551 receiving yards on a team-high 44 receptions. Mack and 220-pound senior Isaiah Wright each have five touchdown catches. Temple does a decent job in pass protection but averages just 3.5 yards per carry. The Owls also turn the ball over more than any team in the American Athletic Conference other than Connecticut.
Statistically, South Florida is a middle-of-the-pack defensive team in the AAC, but the Bulls have forced 20 turnovers through eight games. Across the country, only Illinois has forced more. Senior Patrick Macon, a former Oklahoma State linebacker, leads the team this season with 58 total tackles and a pair of forced fumbles.
Defensive end Greg Reaves and linebacker Antonio Grier each have a team-high three sacks for the Bulls. Senior defensive end Kirk Livingstone is also a very good player. In the secondary, KJ Sails, a junior cornerback, has two interceptions and five pass breakups so far this season. Fellow cornerback Mike Hampton is rarely tested.
When South Florida Has the Ball
South Florida’s turnaround has a lot to do with a quarterback change, as freshman Jordan McCloud was tabbed early in the season to replace senior and Week 1 starter Blake Barnett. McCloud has a long way to go as a passer, but he is a better fit for offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell’s run-heavy attack. As a team, the Bulls average 5.0 yards per carry.
Senior Jordan Cronkrite leads USF with 587 yards rushing on 5.4 yards per carry, but over the last four games, he’s averaging 127.8 yards per game on the ground. McCloud has aided the ground game with 242 yards rushing, and both players have run for four touchdowns. In the passing game, tight end Mitchell Wilcox leads the team with 254 yards receiving on nearly 17 yards per catch and four touchdowns. McCloud has thrown for 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Temple's defense is also in the middle of the pack of the AAC statistically. Sophomore Ifeanyi Maijeh is arguably the Owls' best player on that side of the ball. The 285-pound New York native has six sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss this season — both team-highs. Temple is a good pass-rushing team as defensive ends Dana Levine, Quincy Roche, and Zack Mesday can all get after the quarterback.
Senior linebacker Shaun Bradley is the leading tackler for the Owls with 53 total stops. In the secondary, cornerback Harrison Hand is one of the better defenders in the AAC with 42 total tackles and a team-high three interceptions. Christian Braswell, a sophomore, also has a lot of potential as a cover corner.
Thursday’s contest at Raymond James Stadium should be highly competitive and may come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes. While Temple tends to give the ball away, the Bulls are one of the most penalized teams in the conference. The Bulls, however, are allowing the fewest passing yards per game in the AAC. If they can put Russo in obvious throwing downs on Thursday night, they should like their chances.
Prediction: South Florida 32, Temple 30
(Top photo by Zamani Feelings, courtesy of owlsports.com)