TAMPA – To have a chance at snapping a three-game losing streak USF must do something it has not done in recent weeks: stop the run.
In their past five games the Bulls have allowed 1,408 yards rushing, or 282 per game. It’s a stretch that started at Tulsa when the Golden Hurricane had 220 yards. That was followed by UConn’s 322, Houston with 263, Tulane piling up 365 and Cincinnati with 238 last week. Those five contests also yielded seven individual 100-yard games.
When the Bulls take the field in Philly on Saturday (noon ESPNews/820 AM WDAE) to play Temple, they will do so having allowed an average of 247 rushing yards per game to rank 121st among 129 FBS teams.
In their 59-49 win at Houston last week, the Owls rushed for 312 yards. Senior running back Ryquell Armstead led the way with 210 yards to go with an AAC record six touchdowns. He is fifth nationally with an average of 122 yards per game. Fullback Rob Ritrovato added a career-high 91 yards.
“I said to our staff, to win this game we have to stop the run because they are going to run the football,” said USF coach Charlie Strong, during his weekly press conference. “They showed it last week when (Armstead ran for 210 yards). They try to spread it out a little. Even with them spreading it out, you know you are going to get the run.”
Temple (6-4/5-1 AAC) has a shot at winning the AAC East and going to the conference championship game. The Owls own the tie-breaker against Cincinnati by virtue of their 24-17 overtime win against the Bearcats in Philly last month. They lost at UCF two weeks ago, so they would need to beat the Bulls and win at UConn next week and have the undefeated Knights lose to Cincinnati in Orlando on Saturday night and at USF next Friday. Here is a look at the conference tie-breakers.
It’s a far cry from the Temple team that left Tampa last September having absorbed a 43-7 beating by the Bulls (7-3/3-3) on a Thursday night. The Owls were 3-5 at one point before turning it on late and capping a 7-6 season with a Gasparilla Bowl victory over FIU at Tropicana Field.
Like Strong at USF, Temple coach Geoff Collins came on board last season. Unlike Strong, Collins had to replace many leaders on either side of the ball in his first season and it took a while for things to come together.
“What it was with (Collins) was becoming familiar with who his players are and just building the team around that group,” said Strong, in reference to a question about how things have changed for the Owls since that night at Raymond James Stadium. “They found out what they could do and what they’re good at. Temple has always had an air about them that they are a tough team. They pride themselves on being tough, and that’s what they have done this season.”
The Bulls may be without quarterback Blake Barnett for a second straight week. Strong said that the graduate transfer hurt his shoulder in the second quarter against Tulane two weeks ago, but didn’t complain about it while playing the rest of the game.
Chris Oladokun (10-for-22, 165 yards, 2 TDs) got the start at Cincinnati with Brett Kean (4-for-10, 67 yards, 1 TD) also seeing time. Strong said Barnett did not practice Sunday night, though he will start against Temple if he feels healthy enough.
Following Tuesday’s practice receiver Ryeshene Bronson, who had a highlight-reel 72-yard touchdown reception on the Bulls’ second play from scrimmage at Cincinnati, met with reporters and said all three quarterbacks practiced that day.
Regardless of which quarterback leads the offense on Saturday, the Bulls need to turn things around in the little time that remains. Temple and a date with I-4 rival UCF at Raymond James Stadium next Friday are all that remains of the regular season. A bowl will follow.
“The difference between winning and losing those games is astronomical to us,” said junior offensive lineman William Atterbury of the three remaining games. “A lot of guys are actually really optimistic in pushing forward because we don’t want to end the season (with losses).”
The Owls have 13 Floridians on the roster. One of them, senior receiver Ventell Bryant (Tampa), became the program’s all-time leader in receiving yardage last week and enters Saturday’s game with 2,319. With 164, he needs two receptions to become the all-time leader in that department….Prior to arriving at Temple, coach Geoff Collins was the defensive coordinator at Florida (2015-16). Among other career stops were serving in the same capacity at FIU (2010) and as linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator at UCF (2008-09)….Offensive line coach Chris Wiesehan was the tight end’s coach at Notre Dame for two seasons (1997-98) when Charlie Strong was the Irish’s defensive line coach…..The Temple defense leads the nation with five touchdowns. Three are on fumble returns with the other two on interception returns….330-pound defensive tackle Freddie Booth-Lloyd has three rushing touchdowns.…Do-it-all receiver Isaiah Wright has 1,173 all-purpose yards and leads the AAC and is ninth nationally with an average of 13.3 yards per punt return…..Graduate transfer (Presbyterian) corner Rock Ya-Sin has broken up 12 passes and has two interceptions. His 1.4 passes defensed per game rank second in the AAC and tied for tenth nationally.
Offensive lineman Christion Gainer and his family remain in need of help following damage to their Panama City home as a result of Hurricane Michael. With the help of USF Athletics a GoFundMe page was established last month to help the family…..USF and Temple have split four games with each team winning twice at home….With Nico Sawtelle’s (shoulder) return this season questionable, Greg Reaves will continue at linebacker. The redshirt junior, who lined up at end the first six games, has 36 tackles in four games at his new position. “He is still learning the position and the thing about him is that he is a really good athlete,” said coach Charlie Strong. “Once he learns to play that position, he can sit down and anchor it for us. Right now, he’s a guy that can run around and make plays and when you need to rush (the quarterback) he can do that.”….After catching seven passes for 90 yards at Cincy, Mitchell Wilcox owns the USF single-season marks for receptions (35) and yards (468) by a tight end. His 904 career yards also top the TE list.….Jordan Cronkrite needs 18 yards to reach 1,000 rushing. In the last three games he has 36 carries for 122 yards (3.3 ypc) and one TD….The Bulls will attempt to avoid losing four straight for the first time since closing out the 2013 season with six consecutive defeats.