Temple Owls

Temple at No. 21 USF: Owls look to defend AAC title vs. this season's favorite

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Temple at No. 21 USF: Owls look to defend AAC title vs. this season's favorite

Temple (2-1, 0-0 AAC) vs. No. 21 South Florida (3-0, 0-0 AAC)
Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, Florida
Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

It was another disjointed effort last week for Geoff Collins’ Temple team, but, when the horn sounded, it was another notch in the win column.

Things got hairy again for the Owls —  just as they did the prior week vs. Villanova — and Temple had to fend off an underwhelming UMass team for a 29-21 victory last week at the Linc.

But the mood is about to change.

That’s because the Owls on Thursday have a date in Tampa vs. AAC heavyweight No. 21 South Florida.

Head coach Charlie Strong —  formerly of Texas — and the Bulls, the preseason AAC champion pick and the “Group of Six” darling among many pundits, are 3-0 on the season and are coming off a 47-23 romp over Illinois last week.

The Bulls are an offensive juggernaut, having scored 120 points over their first three games. They’ve also scored at least 30 points in their last 20 games, the longest such streak in the nation.

Needless to say, the Owls are in for a stern test.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

Scouting Temple
Even though true freshman Todd Centeio took a handful of snaps and helped move the ball last week, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi is still the guy for Temple at the QB spot. Last week vs. UMass, Marchi had his best showing to date, going 22 for 37 with 248 yards and three touchdown tosses. Starts to games haven’t necessarily been the best for Marchi as taking time to settle in has been a prevalent theme throughout his first three contests. A sound start for Marchi will be imperative in a hostile environment on Thursday. On the season, Marchi has thrown for 767 yards and five TDs.

Marchi has spread the ball around this season, as the Owls have four wideouts with over 100 yards receiving — Keith Kirkwood (185), Isaiah Wright (180), Adonis Jennings (146) and Ventell Bryant (107). Bryant’s numbers come in just two games as he missed the opener vs. Notre Dame with a hamstring injury. While Wright led the way last week with four grabs for 69 yards andaa TD, Kirkwood has been Marchi’s favorite target. The 6-foot-3 senior has 12 grabs and two TDs on the season.

The Owls’ running game has yet to get our of its early-season funk. Junior Ryquell Armstead broke off a 56-yarder last week, but still just finished with 35 yards on his other 16 carries.  He’s Temple’s leading rusher this year with 177 yards. The Owls have just 283 yards (113th in the nation) on the ground through two games and just a single rushing touchdown — a 1-yard dive by fullback Nick Sharga.

To say the Temple defense has been inconsistent this year would be an understatement. After the Owls were scorched on the ground by Notre Dame in the opener to the tune of 422 yards and 5 TDs, the last two games have seen the Owls get carved up through the air. Through three games, Temple is 119th in the land with 488.7 yards allowed per game. The Owls are 116th in the nation with 1466 total yards allowed and 120th with 943 passing yards allowed. Needless to say, there better be some improvement this week or things could get ugly … fast.

Scouting South Florida
South Florida’s prolific offense, which is averaging 40 points per game over the first three contests of the season, is lead by star senior QB Quinton Flowers, just as it has been for the last several seasons. Flowers is the Bulls’ motor that can send them into overdrive at the blink of an eye. This season, the shifty Flowers has thrown for 678 yards and eight TDs. A steady threat with his legs, Flowers has also rushed for 243 yards and two TDs. He’s got a history of being a thorn in the Owls’ side. In South Florida’s 2015 win over Temple, Flowers threw for 230 yards and two TDs while rushing for 90 yards and another score. Last season, he threw for two more scores while rushing for 90 more yards and a touchdown.

Flowers is a legit rushing threat to the point where Temple deployed Haason Reddick as the QB spy when the teams met last season. But Flowers is only the second leading rusher on the Bulls. The top spot belongs to senior Darius Tice, who’s finally getting a chance to be a lead back as Marlon Mack has moved on to the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts. This season, Tice has 256 yards and four scores on the ground

On the outside, senior wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling is the Bulls’ leading receiver with 202 total yards and two TDs. Last week vs. Illinois, he had four grabs for 96 yards and a TD. Temple’s secondary needs to be wary.

There are points to be had on South Florida’s defense, which allows a smidge under 21 points per game. The Bulls are known to let up yardage through the air as they give up 234 per game, in the bottom tier of the nation. It adds to why Temple needs to get Marchi into a rhythm early Thursday night. If the Temple passing game gets going early, Kirkwood, Jennings, Bryant and crew could find favorable matchups and do some damage. On the other hand, Thursday may not be the best time for Armstead and the rushing game to scoot out of the rut they’ve been stuck in. The Bulls’ rushing defense is stout, giving up just 89.3 yards per game, good for 14th in the nation during the young season.

History
Thursday evening will mark the fourth all-time meeting between Temple and South Florida in a series that dates back to 2012. The Owls hold a 2-1 series advantage, including a win in the last meeting — a 46-30 decision last October in Philadelphia.

Storyline to watch: Can Temple slow a speedy QB?
In recent years under Matt Rhule and former defensive coordinator Phil Snow, the Owls had stingy defenses, but those stingy defenses would have their struggles, sometimes mighty struggles, against QBs who were adept at using their legs.

While the core group of those players have moved on, there is still evidence that the same issue sticks within these Owls. In the season opener, Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush burnt the Owls for 106 yards and a TD on the ground.

While things have settled some with Temple’s rushing defense over the past two weeks, the unit hasn’t faced a mobile QB during that time. Flowers is an entirely different animal who can change a game with his legs in the blink of an eye. It’s almost like pick your poison. Is Temple going to let Flowers attempt to beat them with his arm or legs? It can’t be both, because he can use both with the best of them.

What’s at stake: AAC East supremacy
South Florida is the AAC darling this season, but the fact of the matter is that Temple, while flush with brand new faces, is still the defending conference champ and the two-time division champ.

The Owls can stake their claim to being a legit threat and make a statement in the AAC. Or they can have a statement made at their expense.

Prediction
With the way South Florida has been steamrolling teams and the experience edge, especially at quarterback, the Bulls just have too much talent and will assert dominance in this one. They will just overwhelm the young Owls.

South Florida 38, Temple 23

Fran Dunphy enjoys return to Palestra

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USA Today Images

Fran Dunphy enjoys return to Palestra

BOX SCORE

Considering how much he loves Fran Dunphy, Steve Donahue may be a biased source.

But the Penn head coach made a bold prediction about Dunphy’s Temple squad after the Owls showed a ton of grit in a 60-51 win over the host Quakers Saturday afternoon at the Palestra (see observations).

“I think they’re an NCAA team,” Donahue said. “They just have to try to figure out consistency. When they play well, that’s as good a team as there is. They got better today and they figured out a way to win.”

Temple players agreed that Saturday’s victory — in which the Owls blew a 12-point lead, fell behind by three, and then scored the game’s final 12 points to prevail — could prove to be an important milestone in an up-and-down season.

“Big 5 games are always gonna be tough,” said senior Obi Enechionyia, who scored 10 of his team-high 15 points in the second half. “But we wanted it more, I think. And it showed in the end.”

Enechionyia admitted he didn’t think the 2017-18 campaign would go as it has for the Owls (10-9), who began the season with huge wins over Top 25 teams Auburn and Clemson before starting to sputter and losing six of their last eight heading into Saturday’s contest.

But the senior forward compared this team to the 2015-16 squad, which also hovered around the .500 mark before ending the season strong and making the NCAA Tournament as a 21-win squad.

“I see nothing different from this team,” Enechionyia said.

“I think we all thought it would be better than this. But after struggling a little bit, we have to get back to how we played in the beginning. We have a lot of games to go and I think we can show we’re the same team we were in the beginning of the season.”

It will certainly be an uphill climb for the Owls, who hit the road to face No. 12 Cincinnati on Wednesday and still have two games on the schedule against No. 7 Wichita State. But if the Owls can go 8-3 or 9-2 the rest of the way, that could at least put them onto the bubble heading into the American Athletic Conference tournament.

If nothing else, they’ll be a seasoned team in February and March, as almost all of their recent games have come down to the final minute — Saturday’s win proving to be no exception.

“It’s just who we are,” Enechionyia said. “For some reason, we let teams back, which we shouldn’t do. But at the end of the day, a win is a win. I’m happy with how we played, even though we let them back in.”

Along with Enechionyia, fellow upperclassmen Shizz Alston and Josh Brown also made big plays down the stretch with Alston kickstarting the 12-0 run to end the game with a game-tying three pointer and Brown hitting a big three of his own in between that shot and a tough runner from freshman J.P. Moorman III.

Afterwards, Alston, a Philadelphia native, said he felt like he “needed to make a play.”

“It was amazing,” Alston said. “Every time there’s a game here, it feels like something special happens. Today was no different.”

Indeed, Saturday’s game was a nice place for Temple to show its character as the Palestra was filled even in the corners, with fans from both teams evenly represented.

The size of the crowd and the atmosphere was not lost on Dunphy, who spent 17 seasons in the historic building as Penn’s head coach and has lost only one game to the Quakers since leaving Penn for Temple in 2006.

“It’s different today [coming back] than it was 12 years ago — 12 years ago it was surreal, daunting, crazy,” Dunphy said. “It gets easier every year. It’s still a special place, special university. And while you can change the lighting or the floor, it’s always gonna be the Palestra. It’s still a spectacular place.”

Did it feel as loud as Big 5 games used to be?

“It was today,” Dunphy said. “It was loud as hell. We were in the huddle one time and someone made a halfcourt shot or something? Pretty cool. I’d like to see film of that.”

In addition to a Penn student making a halfcourt shot during one break in the action, the Penn Band played the Eagles fight song at on point with more than 7,000 fans then breaking into an E-A-G-L-E-S chant a day before the NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field.

Just like Dunphy noticed the student halfcourt shot, Donahue noticed that chant reverberating around the gym.

“This is a unique city,” said Donahue, who previously coached at Cornell and Boston College after Dunphy gave him his college start as a Penn assistant throughout the 1990s. “That doesn’t happen, this much interest. College basketball in this city is passionate, it’s huge, it’s a fun place to coach.

“You get an Eagles chant in the middle of the game, which gets you all fired up. They’re not doing that in Boston for the Patriots, trust me.”

Temple beats Penn for 11th straight time

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USA Today Images

Temple beats Penn for 11th straight time

BOX SCORE

Fran Dunphy got the better of his old team once again.

On Saturday afternoon at a packed-to-the-rafters Palestra, Temple scored the game’s final 12 points to beat Penn, 60-51, in a taut Big 5 affair. 

Obi Enechionyia and Shizz Alston led the Owls (10-9, 2-2 Big 5) with 15 and 14 points, respectively, as Temple won its 11 straight game vs. the Quakers, where Temple head coach Dunphy coached for 17 years.

Sophomores AJ Brodeur and Ryan Betley scored 12 points apiece for the Quakers (12-6, 0-3), who had won three straight and seven of their last eight coming into the game for the program’s best start in 15 years.

• Josh Brown made sure he wouldn’t leave Temple with a loss to Penn on his résumé, hitting a tough three with under a minute to go to put the Owls ahead 56-51. It was a big-time play from a big-time senior. 

• Enechionyia, the key to so much for Temple, was quiet in the first half but hit three seconds into the second half and then another one a couple of minutes later to put the Owls ahead 33-26 with 17 minutes left. It was a critical stretch after Temple fell behind 25-24 at halftime.

• After an athletic play from Temple’s Nate Pierre-Louis put the Owls up 38-26, the Quakers began to claw their way back into the game, pulling within 46-41 on a Brodeur three-pointer and then within 46-45 on a Betley layup with 6:30 left.

• When Caleb Wood hit a contested three-pointer with just under five minutes left, the two teams were tied at 48-48 and the building, very nearly filled to capacity, got loud. It got even louder when Brodeur put them in front, 51-48, with a three-pointer of his own on the next possession, and then again when Temple’s Shizz Alston tied it up on another three. The Palestra was probably split pretty evenly between Temple fans and Penn fans. 

• Betley is clearly an excellent Ivy League player but also showed flashes of high-level athleticism with a great open-court block on Brown in transition early in the contest.

• Interestingly, Penn coach Steve Donahue made some big changes with his rotation, giving seldom-used reserves Jake Silpe and Jakub Mijakowski a lot of time off the bench. Mijakowski looked nervous and missed a bunch of shots but Silpe made a couple of nice plays in the first half, including an around-the-back dribble that nearly set up a Betley halftime buzzer beater. 

• Silpe also had a nice first-half assist to Betley, who drained a three just after missing from the same spot. That’s the kind of confidence Donahue likes in his standout sophomore, even on a day when Betley shot 5 for 14 from the field. As a team, the Quakers shot just 28.3 percent and 25.8 from behind the arc.

• As Big 5 contests often are, it was a slog of a game with both teams struggling to score for much of the day — except for one stretch in which Temple’s Alani Moore scored five points in just a few seconds after hitting a tough layup, getting fouled, missing the free throw, and then drilling a three after the Owls corralled an offensive rebound.

• The Quakers’ last win over Temple came in 2007 when Fran Dunphy, a former Penn coaching legend, made his first trip to the Palestra as a visiting coach and the Quakers won a thriller on a pair of late Mark Zoller free throws.

• Quakers head coach Steve Donahue — Dunphy’s assistant at Penn from 1991 to 2000, a stretch in which Penn won six Ivy League titles — has won only one game in 16 tries vs. his mentor. His only victory came in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, when Donahue’s Cornell team upset Temple in the first round.

• Coming into Saturday’s game, ten of Temple’s 18 games had been decided by five or fewer points.

• For the third time this season, a Penn student hit a half-court shot during an in-game promotion.

• Some Penn students might need a history lesson. One of the rollouts coming from their section read: “Greatness doesn’t quit but Done-phy should.” Dunphy, of course, won 10 Ivy League championships and 310 games at Penn and was inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame last year.