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The Bulls, 6-1 (3-0), are on the road for a critical road test as they take on the Temple Owls at 7PM on ESPN Friday night. The Owls currently sit at 4-3 (2-1) on the season, while going 3-1 in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Bulls knocked off No. 22 Temple 44-23 a season ago, in USF’s first win over a ranked opponent at Raymond James Stadium since 2009 when the Bulls’ downed No. 20 West Virginia 30-19, and the first victory over a ranked opponent regardless of venue since USF out dueled No. 16/18 Notre Dame 23-20 in 2011. Temple, fresh off a last second 26-25 win over AAC East foe Central Florida (3-3, 1-1) last weekend, will certainly be seeking redemption in the Friday night AAC East clash.
The Owl’s offense is averaging 32 points and 378 offensive yards per game respectively, but Temple was stymied by the USF ‘Bullshark’ defense in 2015 and only gained 380 total offensive yards in last year’s meeting. Now let’s delve into the Owl’s offensive aces leading for tonight’s rematch.
The Temple ground game is led by 5’11” 205 pound sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead. Armstead has tallied 403 rushing yards on 71 touches (5.7 yds./att.) and has broken the plane for seven touchdowns in 2016. Armstead has also pulled down three passes for 15 yards. Senior tailback Jahad Thomas (5’10”, 188 lbs.) has taken 85 rushing attempts 357 yards (4.2 yds./att.), and punched in seven rushing touchdowns this season. Thomas has been a major factor in the Owl’s aerial assault in 2016, hauling in18 receptions for 251 yards (13.9 yards/rec.) and three touchdowns. Thomas looks to extend his FBS leading streak of scoring two or more touchdowns in a game to six this evening against USF.
Armstead and Thomas share the rushing burden for the Temple offense, with Thomas proving to be the versatile asset coming out of the backfield in the passing game. The Bulls’ will rely on the front seven, a unit allowing 190 yards per game on the ground, to bottle up the dynamic duo of tailbacks.
Linebacker Auggie Sanchez has propelled the Bulls’ defense by stockpiling a team leading 66 total tackles (35 solo), 8.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, and three pass break-ups while both forcing and recovering a fumble. Sanchez, Bulls’ lieutenant of laying the lumber, posted six tackles and one tackle for loss in last year’s contest. Another key player to USF’s defensive success against Temple is fellow #BayMade linebacker Nigel Harris. Harris has reeled in 42 tackles (22 solo), 6.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, two interceptions, a pass breakup, and snagged a fumble recovery this year. Harris snatched four tackles, and one tackle for loss last year, but will need to step up with a more impactful performance in tonight’s game.
Leading the passing attack for the Owls is senior quarterback Phillip ‘P.J.’ Walker (5’11”, 205 lbs.). Walker decided last year he no longer wished to be called ‘P.J.’ and preferred ‘Phillip’, so let’s call ‘P.J.’, ‘P.J.’ the entire night to get under his skin. ‘P.J.’ has aired it out for 1,582 yards on 118 for 210 passing (56.2%), scoring 10 touchdowns, and tossing 10 interceptions. USF’s secondary has to be licking their chops at the opportunity for takeaways.
‘P.J.’ has toted the rock 37 times for -38 yards (yes MINUS), and one rushing touchdown. Walker is not a threat in the running game, but can extend plays and must be limited outside of the pocket. By comparison, USF quarterback Quinton ‘Winky’ Flowers has dine and dashed for 655 yards on 94 carries (7.0 yds./att.) and seven touchdowns. Flowers has outgained ‘P.J.’ by 693 rushing yards, and is a mere 105 yards shy of outrushing both Armstead and Thomas combined. How’s that for a fact!
‘P.J.’ finished with 259 yards on 20 for 48 passing (41.6%) and a touchdown in the game last season, but was sacked twice. ‘P.J.’ also had eight rushes for 47 yards (3.5 yds./att.), reinforcing my previous statement about the Temple signal caller not being a threat in the rushing game. Walker, an Elizabeth, NJ native like my father, is a talented quarterback and the Bulls must pressure ‘P.J.’ all night by consistently dialing up safety blitz packages and rushing four. USF will look to defensive lineman Deadrin Senat (33 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss) and Bruce Hector (16 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), as well as defensive ends Kevin Bronson, Daniel Awoleke, Kirk Livingstone, and Mike Love to step it up in the trenches, win one-on-one battles, and pressure ‘P.J.’ all evening long.
The top receiving option for ‘P.J.’ in the passing game is redshirt junior wide receiver Keith Kirkwood (6’3″, 218 lbs.). Kirkwood, a large physical receiver, has caught 23 passes for 334 receiving yards (14.5 yds./rec.) and scored three touchdowns in 2016. Redshirt sophomore Brodrick Yancy, the Owls’ other target in the passing attack, has 19 receptions for 210 receiving yards (11.1 yds./rec.) and two receiving touchdowns. The USF secondary will rely on Deatrick Nichols, Ronnie Hoggins, Johnny Ward, Tajee Fullwood, Nate Godwin, and Khalid McGee to step it up and key on shutting both Kirkwood and Yancy down tonight.
Immokalee High native and USF strong safety Jaymon Thomas has amassed 38 tackles (29 solo), 3.0 tackles for loss, a sack, while both forcing and recovering a fumble this season. Thomas didn’t play in last year’s 44-21 upset of No. 22 Temple, but the true sophomore will need to continue imposing his will and laying the wood for the Bulls’ ‘Bullshark’ defense. At corner, the Bulls will need Deatrick Nichols to step in. Nichols recorded five tackles, an interception, and two pass break-ups last year against the Owls and the Bulls’ secondary will rely on the Miami Central High School standout for another stellar performance Friday night to slow down the Temple offensive attack.
Also, be sure to listen in to the AAC Teleconference interview with Temple Head Coach Matt Rhule I’ve added below from this week. At the 4:00 mark Rhule adds and amazing story about the sportsmanship and the respect he has for both Marlon Mack and Quinton Flowers for their actions after knocking off his No. 22 Owls last season. The story proves Willie Taggart has done everything rebuild USF Football in a first class manner!
by Matt Staton
SoFloBulls.com Columnist | @USFMatt
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