Third downs will be key for football against South Florida

The Owls will be tasked with keeping senior quarterback Quinton Flowers and South Florida’s offense off the field Thursday night in Tampa, Florida.

Junior running back Ryquell Armstead (left), waits for a pitch from redshirt-sophomore quarterback Logan Marchi in the first half of Temple's 29-21 win against the University of Massachusetts on Friday at Lincoln Financial Field. | JAMIE COTTRELL / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Dave Patenaude didn’t mince words to describe South Florida’s high-powered offense.

“In basketball terminology, they want to be the [Golden State] Warriors, right?” the offensive coordinator said. “They want to get the ball off the rim, they want to run it down the court. They want to jack up a shot, play fast, play that frenzied type of offense.”

Golden State has won two of the last three NBA Finals and led the NBA in scoring during the past two seasons. Like the Warriors, the South Florida is no stranger to piling up points. The Bulls have scored 30 or more points in 20 consecutive games, which is the longest streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Temple will be tasked with facing that Bulls offense Thursday at 7 p.m. when it travels to Tampa to start American Athletic Conference play. The Bulls are ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

“We have to be able to control the ball,” Patenaude said. “We can’t turn the ball over. You can’t give them short fields … you have to be able to run the ball and you got to be able to control it with the short pass”

South Florida is led by the 2016 American Athletic Conference Offensive Player Of The Year, senior quarterback Quinton Flowers.

Last season against South Florida, the Owls won 46-30, but Flowers still was able to take off for some big gains. He finished the game with 90 rushing yards on 14 carries and a touchdown, including a 50-yard run in the third quarter. He also completed 11-of-19 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns.

But Temple will hope to keep South Florida’s offense off the field by winning the time of possession battle and converting on third downs, coach Geoff Collins said.

South Florida has the advantage over Temple in time of possession. The Bulls rank fifth in The American with a 34-minute, eight-second average time of possession per game, while Temple ranks seventh at 30:27.

Temple ranks seventh in The American with a 38 percent third-down conversion rate. Last week against the University of Massachusetts, the Owls converted on third down 47 percent of the time — an improvement from the first two weeks against the University of Notre Dame and Villanova.

Patenaude said running the ball will be important for Temple in order to sustain long offensive drives.

The Owls’ rushing offense has shown flashes of success in 2017. In Week 1 against Notre Dame, the Owls picked up several runs for more than five yards but found themselves passing more frequently because of their 28-3 deficit midway through the second quarter. Junior running back Ryquell Armstead took off to the outside for a 56-yard gain on the second play against UMass to set up a field goal on the opening drive. Excluding that run, the Owls averaged 1.9 yards per carry.

Temple could be without redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Jovahn Fair against South Florida, who suffered an undisclosed injury against UMass and left the game. Collins said he would be a “game-time decision,” while Patenaude said he’s “questionable.” Redshirt-senior offensive lineman Adrian Sullivan, who started all 14 games last season, filled in for Fair last week.

Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Logan Marchi has yet to throw an interception through three games this season. He said he’s getting more comfortable with the new offense each week.

“You got to stay on the field,” Marchi said. “You got to convert on third down and you have to score in the red zone. Keeping our offense on the field and giving our defense a rest will be huge this week.”

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