The Temple student section started to empty when freshman kicker Aaron Boumerhi kicked a field goal with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. With a 14-point lead, some Temple fans felt confident enough to leave Lincoln Financial Field.
Though South Florida answered quickly to stop the Owls’ span of 17 consecutive points, a defensive stop with five minutes left preserved the lead and helped the Owls solidify a 46-30 win. The victory moved Temple (5-3, 3-1 American Athletic Conference) into first place in The American’s East Division.
“That was a big time college football game,” coach Matt Rhule said. “That was the No. 27 team in the country. … National TV. Temple’s front and center. Go and make the plays you’re supposed to make, and they did.”
Sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead led the Owls’ rushing attack with 210 yards on 20 carries. It was the first time a Temple player rushed for more than 200 yards since 2012. He scored two touchdowns including a 76-yarder in the second quarter.
He helped the Owls hold onto their fourth-quarter lead by running nine times for 67 yards over the last 15 minutes, carrying defenders on his back along the way.
“Powering guys in the first and the second quarter, just coming in and headhunting basically, not shying away from contact,” Armstead said of what led to a successful game. “By the end of the third or fourth quarter, they don’t want to tackle me.”
Temple had 319 rushing yards, using the power running game, jet sweeps and the wildcat formation. Senior running back Jahad Thomas added 56 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and freshman wide receiver Isaiah Wright carried the ball six times for 58 yards.
Running the ball kept South Florida’s offense, which entered play as the eighth best rushing offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision, off the field. The Owls held the ball for nearly 40 minutes compared to the Bulls’ 20:53.
“Our big thing is just pacing the game as best we can,” redshirt-junior fullback Nick Sharga said. ”I think really just wearing teams down by running the ball towards the end of the game really helps our offense out.”
When the Bulls offense was on the field, it was dangerous. South Florida started off its scoring with a 6-play, 68-yard drive that took fewer than 90 seconds. The Bulls longest touchdown drive took just more than two minutes of game time. Their four touchdown drives took a combined 5:37.
South Florida took a 23-20 lead in the third quarter when Flowers broke off a 50-yard run, then capped the three-play, 84-yard drive with a three-yard rushing score after a long run by junior running back Marlon Mack.
“We were weird tonight,” Owls’ defensive coordinator Phil Snow said. “Because we would dominate a series and then we would give up a touchdown on the next series. We were just lucky our offense ran for 300 yards.”
The Bulls had the ball at their own 14-yard line trailing 37-30 with five minutes to play. After Flowers threw an incomplete pass and Mack lost three yards on a run, penalties pushed South Florida back near its own goal line.
The Bulls barely avoided getting called for a safety on a holding penalty near the goal line, but Flowers got hurt on the play and did not return. Redshirt-freshman Brett Kean entered the game facing a near impossible 3rd-and-23 from his own 1-yard line.
Pressure from the defensive line forced an interception to sophomore defensive back Delvon Randall on Kean’s only pass attempt, and Thomas added a touchdown to make the score 44-30 with 3:17 left and salt the game away. The Owls added two more points with a safety on the ensuing drive.
Along with Randall’s interception, the Owls had all kinds of game-changing plays. On special teams, freshman defensive back Linwood Crump saved a touchdown by chasing down the Bulls’ kick returner on the last play of the first half.
Redshirt-senior defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike blocked an extra point, and redshirt-senior defensive lineman Avery Ellis blocked a punt in the third quarter that set up Thomas’ first touchdown.
”There were just so many guys who made plays,” Rhule said. “That’s what makes it such a huge win.”
South Florida committed 11 penalties for 88 yards in the game. … Senior quarterback Phillip Walker didn’t throw an interception for the second time this season. He hit seven different receivers including Wright, who made his first career reception, and redshirt-senior tight end Colin Thompson, who caught his first career touchdown pass on a misdirection play. … Redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Ventell Bryant tallied the first 100-yard game by a Temple receiver this season. He had five catches for 115 yards, which all came in the first half.
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org