Temple Football head coach Stan Drayton knows his goals at making a bowl game hang by a thread. After last week’s 32-18 win against Navy, the team will attempt to build momentum to make an improbable run.
The Owls (3-6, 1-4 American Athletic Conference) need to win their last three games in order to become bowl eligible. They will first need to get past South Florida (4-5, 2-3 AAC) to keep that chance alive.
Quarterback E.J. Warner returned last weekend and played like he never left as the signal caller. The sophomore threw for more than 400 yards and found the endzone four times in the win.
Temple’s rush defense was also able to find their groove, holding the best rushing team in the conference to just 144 yards.
“That’s our E.J.,” Drayton said. “He’s a very good study, he kinda knew where there was gonna be some holes. We had a really good week in practice and got things timed up in the throw game. I think our tight ends played and that was something executed well in practice.”
The Owls will need a similar performance to have success against the Bulls.
Here is what you need to know before Temple’s matchup with USF, which kicks off at Raymond James Stadium Saturday at noon.
THROW THE BALL
Saying the Owls’ offense got a boost from Warner’s return is an understatement. Warner went into concussion protocol after Temple’s loss to UTSA Oct. 7, and the offense unraveled without him, getting shut out by Southern Methodist 55-0 Oct. 20.
Warner came back and lifted Temple’s offense after two weeks on the sideline. Despite throwing two interceptions, Warner thrived against the Midshipmen, finishing with 402 passing yards and four touchdown passes.
Prior to his injury, Warner was finding his rhythm with his tight ends, and he didn’t miss a beat in his return. Jordan Smith and David Martin-Robinson both caught touchdown passes.
However, the biggest benefactor was wide receiver Zae Baines. After battling injuries all season, Baines went off for career highs in catches with seven and receiving yards with 132.
The Owls will look to repeat their success against a USF squad that ranks last in pass defense in the AAC.
TEMPLE’S DEFENSE IS BACK?
After Temple routed Norfolk State on Sep 16, its defense was quickly brought back to reality. The unit gave up at least 30 points in the next five games, going from bad to worse with SMU’s 55-point performance.
The defense returned to form last Saturday, as the Owls dominated the Midshipman on every level. Though Temple has struggled against the run this season, the defense stepped up, holding the best rushing attack in the conference to just 144 yards on the ground.
For the Owls to have success against the Bulls, they will have to do the same thing that led them past Navy: stop the rush.
“The one thing our defense was forced to do against Navy was have discipline with their eyes,” Drayton said. “With a dual-threat quarterback that we are getting ready to face with South Florida, it’s the same thing. We have to be disciplined with our eyes, and that’s something that hasn’t been very consistent for us leading up to Navy.”
The Bulls boast the second-best rushing offense in the conference, an area that has given the Owls fits all season. If the Owls front seven, headlined by linebackers Yvandy Rigby and Jordan Magee, have the same performances they did on Saturday, the Owls should expect similar results.
USF enters Saturday with a record of 4-5, but the team has been able to stay in games throughout the season. The Bulls held No. 8 Alabama to just 17 points and narrowly lost a shootout to Memphis, one of the best teams in the conference.
“We all know we’re in a tough conference, and we’ve got a tough team in South Florida,” Drayton said. “You can’t look at record for sure in this conference. They just scored 50 on a very good Memphis team.”
Explosive quarterback Byrum Brown leads the Bulls on offense. The redshirt freshman is sixth in the conference with 2,222 passing yards and fifth in passing touchdowns. Brown’s biggest threat is his legs, as he has rushed for 673 yards and seven touchdowns on the season.
Brown is the leading rusher of the Bulls’ offense, which is ranked second in the conference, averaging 194 yards per game.
The defensive side of the ball has been the Bull’s Achilles heel all season, especially the pass defense. USF has given up at least 35 points in seven of its games this season.
USF gives up an average of 459 yards per game, with 305 of those yards coming through the air, Temple’s main source of offense. If the Owls can slow down Brown and the Bulls’ offense, they could get one step closer to a bowl appearance..
Declan Landis, Sports Editor: “This game has shootout written all over it. Two great offenses are colliding Saturday, and both face defenses that have struggled this season. This game may come down to who has the ball last, but I think the on-paper advantage leans towards USF.”
USF wins 45-42.
Johnny Zawislak, Assistant Sports Editor: “I think that Temple’s defense has some positive momentum to work off of after the win against Navy. I also think if Temple’s offense can get the right ends involved against the Bulls, Temple has a chance to come out with a win. This will definitely be an extremely high-scoring game.”
Temple wins 41-38.
Ryan Mack, Assistant Sports Editor: “ E.J. Warner’s return helped give the Owls’ offense a boost last week. Although their rushing attack has had struggles all season, I think they will be able to take advantage of USF’s pass defense, which is dead last in the American.”
Temple wins 31-21.
Jaison Nieves, Sports Social Media Manager: “Temple executed its game plan perfectly last week and needs a repeat showing to beat USF. As long as the Owls commit to stopping the run and playing to their strengths, I see them pulling out a win.”
Temple wins 37-14.