Delvon Randall felt whichever team won last year’s matchup between Temple and South Florida would represent the American Athletic Conference’s East Division in the league title game.
Junior running back Ryquell Armstead accounted for 210 of Temple’s 319 rushing yards and two of its rushing touchdowns in a 46-30 win, the second of six in a row that closed the regular season and clinched a spot in the league title game.
South Florida entered last year’s contest with a top-10 scoring average and rushing attack. This year’s Bulls head into Thursday’s battle, which is the conference opener for both teams, ranked 21st in the Associated Press Top 25 poll with a perfect 3-0 record.
Randall, a junior safety, didn’t put the same weight of importance on Thursday as he did last year’s game, but he knows Temple has a tough task when it travels to Tampa, Florida after a short week of preparation.
“You’ve got to get through [South Florida] to get to the championship in this conference,” redshirt-senior defensive lineman Sharif Finch said. “Everybody knows that, especially on the eastern side. So I mean, they’re a great team, and we’ve got to come prepared to play.”
South Florida has scored 30-plus points in 20 games in a row in large part to its running game. The Bulls’ 281.3 rushing yards per game ranks 13th in the Football Bowl Subdivision. In their last game, the Bulls recorded 680 total yards of offense in their 47-23 win against the University of Illinois on Friday to set a new school record against a FBS opponent.
Temple struggled to defend the run in its Week 1 road loss to the University of Notre Dame on Sept. 2. The Owls allowed six running plays of 20 or more yards and 422 rushing yards total.
Three players each accumulated 100 yards or more for the Fighting Irish including junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Finch said Wimbush and South Florida senior Quinton Flowers, who are both right-handed mobile quarterbacks, are similar.
Flowers is tied for the all-time rushing touchdown record in South Florida history with 32 and is second in school history in passing touchdowns. Freshman quarterback Todd Centeio has been mimicking Flowers’ play in practices, coach Geoff Collins said.
He and University of Louisville junior quarterback Lamar Jackson, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, were the only two players to run for at least 1,500 yards while passing for at least 2,000 last season in 2016.
In 2015 against Temple, Flowers ran for 90 yards and a touchdown and passed for two. Last year, with 2017 NFL first-round draft pick Haason Reddick playing a spy technique against him, Flowers ran for fewer than 100 yards for the only time in his last eight games.
“Our game plan is to get after Quinton Flowers early, make him uncomfortable, make sure that we have the advantage in the game and just keep him on his heels the entire time,” redshirt-freshman linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley said.
Temple used 11 defensive linemen in its nine-sack performance on Friday against the University of Massachusetts. Collins said his team will need to use 10 defensive linemen and seven to eight linebackers to be avoid fatigue against the Bulls’ fast-paced offense.
South Florida runs an average of 102 plays per game, which leads the FBS. Its 2.72 plays per minute ranks 17th and might make substituting players difficult for Temple’s defense.
“We have to get off the field on third down,” Collins said. “South Florida does an amazing job, first down, second down, getting into third-and-manageable situations, and then once they convert here comes the tempo. So that’s got to be a big emphasis for us. Getting off the field on third downs and when we have chances when we have somebody wrapped up we have to create turnovers.”