WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA – Earlier in the week, Matt Rhule wasn’t too thrilled with the abundance of carries Jahad Thomas had last Saturday in Orlando. If the Temple head coach was calling the plays, his goal would be to have a balance in the backfield; an equal share of touches between Thomas and backup Ryquell Armstead.
While both halfbacks finished with a difference of only four carries on Friday night, Armstead won the total yardage competition convincingly, rushing for a career-high 210 yards along with two touchdowns in Temple’s 46-30 upset victory over South Florida before a crowd of 25,950 at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Owls (5-3, 3-1) now own the tiebreaker between the Bulls (6-2, 3-1) in the American Athletic Conference East Division standings.
“I believe each game is a growing process,” Rhule said after the game. “We had a lot of success last year, and I’ll tell you that was built on our 2-10 season and our 6-6 season. I know that sounds corny, but I believe you learn more from every loss. Tonight, that’s a bunch of men in (the locker room). That’s how far they have come.”
Armstead and Thomas combined for 266 rushing yards and four touchdowns. This marked the sixth consecutive game in which Thomas recorded at least two scores. Freshman Isaiah Wright also tallied 58 yards on six carries, while fullback Nick Sharga contributed three carries for nine yards.
“I think it was just patience and balance, and when you don’t turn the ball over, you’re able to the run the football effectively,” Rhule said. “We felt comfortable with the run game going into this game. We felt like we had a good plan in place.”
Trailing 13-10 with less than five minutes remaining in the first half, Temple quickly regained the lead on just two plays as Armstead broke free, untouched by South Florida defenders, for a 76-yard touchdown run to make the score 17-13. Four minutes later, freshman kicker Aaron Boumerhi drilled a 35-yard field goal, handing the Owls a 20-13 halftime lead.
But the Bulls’ dynamic offense wasted no time responding to early adversity. After burning six minutes in the third quarter, South Florida scored its own 10 unanswered points, as Emilio Nadelman tacked on a 42-yard field goal, followed by a three-yard rushing score from quarterback Quinton Flowers, giving the Bulls a 23-20 lead.
Armstead, however, proved to be up to the task for an answer. Following a 12-yard rush from Thomas and a 24-yard gain from Wright, Armstead once again cut loose and crossed the goal line unscathed for a 42-yard touchdown to place Temple ahead, 27-23, with 3:53 remaining in the third.
On the ensuing drive, Temple pinned South Florida deep in its own territory. On the fourth down punt, Owls’ defensive lineman Avery Ellis deflected the ball in flight, handing Temple possession at the Bulls’ 20 yard line.
Two plays later, Thomas added his name to the scoring list with a nine-yard touchdown, increasing the score to 34-23.
But South Florida continued to show its resilience. After another Temple field goal brought the Bulls’ deficit to 14, halfback Marlon Mack passed defenders for a 30-yard touchdown, cutting the score to 37-30 with 8:42 remaining. Temple stalled on its next drive, but the offense returned to the field quickly after Delvon Randall picked off a pass from backup quarterback Brett Keane, who entered the game due to an injury to Flowers on the previous play.
With a first and goal at the three, Thomas raced left to the outside for his second touchdown to place the score at 44-30. Temple would add on two more points after Romond Deloatch earned a safety with a sack on Keane.
The Owls dominated time of possession, 39:07 to 20:53, and recorded 528 total yards of offense on 72 plays.
“We got physically dominated on both sides of the ball,” South Florida head coach Willie Taggart said. “We got out-coached. We didn’t do anything right as a football team — offensively, defensively or special teams.”
Armstead, who finished with 159 rushing yards against SMU back on Oct. 1, now considers himself to be a power running back.
“I don’t run or shy away from contact,” Armstead said. “That way, by the end of the third quarter, players do not want to tackle me. I am getting better every week, taking care of my body. A main factor is making sure I take care of my body because last year I was injured.”
With the victory, Temple controls its own destiny in the East division, and will look to tally its third straight victory next Saturday afternoon at home against Cincinnati (3-3, 0-3). But the Owls’ narrative has been all but consistent, and Rhule understands the significance of his team’s final four games.
“So many guys made plays,” Rhule said. “That is what makes this a huge win for me, and it obviously gives us some control. But that can change in a week in the blink of an eye, so they better stay focused.”