For the second straight week, the University of South Florida Bulls will play at home in prime time on ESPN. Last Friday featured a 47-23 blowout of Illinois while this week brings American Athletic Conference rival Temple (2-1) to Raymond James Stadium to open league play for both teams.
The 3-0 Bulls, ranked 21st in the AP Top 25 and 17th in the Amway Coaches Poll, will be looking to avenge last year’s 46-30 loss to the Owls in Philadelphia. It was the second of only two losses USF suffered in 2016 (Florida State was the other), but it kept them out of the conference championship game.
While Central Florida remains USF’s principal conference rival, the brief three-game history with Temple is shaping up to be another. Post-game comments by Temple tailback Ryquell Armstead, who ran for 210 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s game, could be taken as challenging the manhood of the USF defense.
Neither Bulls’ coach Charlie Strong, nor any of the USF players, are talking about last year. Instead, they hope to let their play on the field do the talking.
“It’s going to be a very physical game. We know what Temple did to us last year,” Strong said in his weekly press briefing. “Some quotes that were said, some things that were said, I just told our players you can’t worry about last season. We’ve got to stay locked in and just go play our game.”
Playing their game will include handling Armstead. The 5-foot, 11-inch junior, who rushed for 14 touchdowns last year, has yet to find the end zone in three games this year against Notre Dame, Villanova and Massachusetts.
He was held to just 24 yards from scrimmage against Villanova. Armstead should not expect a warm greeting from a Bulls’ defense that is markedly improved from the last time they played.
The Owls defense will have their hands full with a USF offense that is averaging the staggering total of 101 plays and 522 yards of offense per game. Featured back Darius Tice averages 85 yards on the ground and has scored four touchdowns.
On the receiving end, 6 different Bulls have caught touchdown passes from quarterback Quinton Flowers, who clearly makes the offense go. Flowers has also rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 32 for his career.
His next score will give him the all-time USF record for rushing touchdowns, breaking the current tie with Marlon Mack, now with the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL.
“(Flowers) is a really good athlete, everybody knows that,” said Temple’s first-year coach Geoff Collins during his weekly briefing. “He can make plays with his arm and he can make plays with his legs.”
The Bulls have scored at least 30 points in 20 consecutive games, the longest streak in the nation. USF has won 13 of their last 15 home games.
With the Owls’ well-respected ability to block kicks, the Bulls need to pay special attention to special teams. Since Ed Foley took over as special teams coach in 2015, Temple leads the nation with 12 during the two-plus seasons. They have blocked 17 over the past three years.
“We’ve got to make sure that in the kicking game, we don’t give them anything,” Strong said. “Make them earn everything they get.”
Both teams last played on Friday night. Oddsmakers list USF as a 19-point favorite.
Temple leads the all-time series 2-1 with the home team winning all three games.