USF spoils Temple’s title game berth, wins big, 44-23

WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin

TAMPA- Marlon Mack’s career-high 230 rushing yards and three touchdowns annihilated Temple’s defense on Saturday night, as South Florida stunned and crushed the No. 21 Owls, 44-23 at Raymond James Stadium.

The Bulls’ victory clinched their bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010, and spoiled the Owls’ chances of clinching the American Athletic Conference’s East division this week, along with a spot in the conference’s championship game.

Temple opened the first quarter with the ball, and on a fourth and short from their own 40, the Owls faked a punt and ran five yards for a first down. On another fourth down, Temple elected to pass, and Quarterback P.J. Walker connected with John Christopher for 10 more yards.

On their third fourth down, Kicker Austin Jones was sent out for a 39-yard field goal attempt, but missed off of the upright, keeping the game scoreless with 7:54 left in the first.

After a South Florida punt, Walker found Ventell Bryant for a 22-yard completion. Two plays later, Walker handed the ball off to Jahad Thomas, who found a hole for a 35-yard gain. After a defensive pass interference penalty on the Bulls that placed the Owls at goal to go, Thomas was pitched the ball on third down, and crossed the plain for his 15th season touchdown to place Temple ahead, 7-0.

Following the Owls’ kickoff, the Bulls’ offense immediately responded, as Quarterback Quentin Flowers launched the ball deep on first down to Rodney Adams for a 68-yard touchdown, knotting the score at 7 after the first quarter.

The next play brought more misfortune to Temple, as Walker’s pass was intercepted by Deatrick Nichols, and on a first and goal at the Owls’ five, Flowers scrambled into the endzone to place South Florida ahead 14-7 in a span of 31 seconds.

After a 54-yard kickoff return from Freshman Jager Gardner, the Owls’ offense retaliated, as Jones made his second field goal attempt from 33 to cut the deficit to 14-10.

South Florida’s running spree continued on the ensuing drive, as halfback Marlon Mack broke out for 57 yards, and scored the Bulls’ third touchdown untouched, making it 21-10 with 9:16 to go in the half.

Temple was forced to punt on the next possession, and placed the Bulls at South Florida’s own 39. On first down, Flowers continued his dominance, and ran for 42 yards to Temple’s 19. On second and long, Flowers rolled left and found Mack for a 20-yard touchdown pass, increasing the lead to 28-10 at the 6:17 mark.

Prior to halftime, Bulls’ kicker Emilio Nadelman tacked on three more points with a 48-yard field goal, placing the score at 31-10.

South Florida began the third quarter on offense, but on the first play from scrimmage, Owls’ lineman Praise Martin-Oguike forced and recovered a Darius Tice’ fumble, placing Temple at the Bulls’ 26 yard line.

With a third and long at the 14, Walker found Bryant for a touchdown, cutting the Owls’ deficit to 31-17 in the first two minutes.

Temple’s defense forced a Bulls’ three and out, and after punter Mattias Ciabatti pinned Temple at their own 11, the Owls marched downfield on six plays to South Florida’s 18, and were forced to settle with a 35-yard field goal made by Jones, cutting it to 31-20 with 8:35 left in the third.

On the ensuing drive, South Florida managed to move the chains, but the Owls’ defense held the Bulls to only three more points, increasing the lead to 34-20 at the 3:16 mark.

Temple once again retaliated on offense, as Walker connected with Bryant, who made a spectacular leaping catch for a 30-yard gain on first down. But the play was all for naught, as Jones missed another field goal on fourth down, which forced a turnover on downs.

With 8:40 left in regulation, Nadelman drilled a 37-yard field goal, placing the Bulls’ lead at 37-20. Temple then responded with another field goal to make it 37-23 with 6:11 to go.

The Owls were given two more possessions in the closing minutes, but failed to produce on both tries. With 2:46 left, Mack solidified the Bulls’ victory, as he ran 48 yards to the endzone for his third touchdown on the night.

Mack was the star performer, as he finished the contest with 230 rushing yards, while Temple’s defense allowed 321 total yards on the ground. It was the second consecutive game in which the Owls’ defense surrendered 40 points or more, and the third straight game of 90 yards or more to opposing quarterbacks on the ground.

Flowers finished with 15 completions on 22 attempts, including two touchdowns through the air and one rushing score. Adams was the game’s top receiver, as he tallied 147 yards on seven receptions with a touchdown.

On the Owls’ end, Walker completed 20 of 48 passes for 259 yards, including one touchdown and interception apiece. Jahad Thomas totaled only 65 yards on 16 carries, the fifth time this season in which Thomas was limited to under 70 yards rushing in a game. Receivers Bryant and Anderson tallied 163 yards combined with one touchdown, while kicker Austin Jones finished three for five on field goal tries.

With the devastating upset loss, Temple dropped to 8-2 on the season, 5-1 in conference play, and will face the 8-2 Memphis Tigers next Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.

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