South Florida shutout Temple in the first half and held a 17-point halftime lead. Coach Geoff Collins wanted his team to come out of the locker room with a “spark” to start the third quarter.
“The first half wasn’t us,” Collins said. “We came out there and we were kind of feeling our way through, trying to kind of figure out what kind of game this would be. That wasn’t our brand of football.”
The Owls (7-4, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) responded by scoring 27 consecutive points to beat USF (7-4, 3-4 The American), 27-17, on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Senior safety Delvon Randall said he told the team to “pick it up” during halftime.
“We all just came out flat,” Randall said. “I could tell in pregame. …There was no energy. We came in the locker room, got it cleaned up and came out with extra juice. The sideline was going crazy…it was a great feeling.”
The Owls’ defense forced five turnovers and shutout USF in the second half, while their offense gained 207 total yards. A 73-yard punt return for a touchdown by junior wide receiver Isaiah Wright with 10 minutes, five seconds remaining in the fourth quarter gave Temple a 20-17 lead, its first of the day.
“It came down to who wants it more,” graduate student wide receiver Ventell Bryant said. “I feel like we wanted it more coming out of halftime. Our defense played unbelievable in the second half, a shutout, and the offense knew what they had to do to win the game.”
The offense recorded four three-and-outs in the first half, and Temple was too “tentative” to open the game, redshirt-sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo said.
On Temple’s first offensive drive of the second half, senior running back Ryquell Armstead capped a 10-play, 69-yard drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown.
During that drive, Bryant became Temple’s all-time receptions leader on a 21-yard pass from Russo. Bryant finished the day with 76 yards on four receptions.
Temple forced turnovers on USF’s next two drives after Armstead’s touchdown. Randall made a one-handed interception, then redshirt-sophomore defensive end Quincy Roche recovered a USF fumble.
After Roche’s fumble recovery, Mobley made field goals on back-to-back drives before Wright’s touchdown.
Temple needed one last defensive stop with 1:44 left to clinch the win. Redshirt-junior defensive end Dana Levine forced junior quarterback Blake Barnett to fumble and recorded his first sack of the season on the Bulls’ first play. Redshirt-junior linebacker Chapelle Russell recovered the ball in the end zone to extend Temple’s lead.
Temple held USF to 44 yards rushing in the second half, but the run game held the Bulls get off to a strong start.
On USF’s first offensive drive, junior running back Jordan Cronkrite had a 49-yard run to the Owls’ 2-yard line. Three plays later, Cronkrite scored a 3-yard touchdown. Cronkrite also had a rushing touchdown in the second quarter that gave USF a 17-0 lead. He led the Bulls in rushing and surpassed 1,000 yards on the season.
The Owls punted on five of their seven first-half drives. The other two drives ended with a missed 29-yard field goal by redshirt-freshman kicker Will Mobley and a failed fake-punt attempt.
Temple came back from a 17-point deficit for the first time since its 24-20 win against the University of Akron in 2007.
The Owls will face Connecticut (1-9, 0-6 The American) in their last regular-season game next Saturday on the road.