USF will be looking for revenge when they host Temple on Thursday night in their conference opener.
Despite going 11-2 in 2016, USF didn’t make it into the AAC championship game because of their lost to Temple last October when the Owls topped USF 46-30, stripping the Bulls of their first-place spot in the AAC.
In their triumph last season, Temple nearly doubled the Bull’s time of possession and rushed the ball 51 times for 319 yards. When the high-powered offense was needed more than ever, they netted just 352 total yards on the night.
“We remember [the Temple game last season], but it’s a new year,” junior cornerback Ronnie Hoggins, said at this week’s press conference. “We’re a new defense, and we’ve improved.”
Temple’s most potent offensive weapons include running back Ryquell Armstead, who rushed for 210 yards and two touchdowns against USF last season, quarterback Logan Marchi and a receiving tandem with Isaiah Wright and Keith Kirkwood.
Despite last year’s struggles, USF’s defense is currently tied for second in the country with eight interceptions and has allowed only 268 total rushing yards to opponents in the three games this season.
Also stepping up is the Bulls’ offense.
“Whatever our coach calls, we just go out there and execute,” quarterback Quinton Flowers said after beating Illinois Friday. When asked if the playbook had been opened all the way, he said “No, not at all.”
One way the Bulls opened their play-calling last week was by throwing to running back D’Ernest Johnson, who recorded his first receptions and first receiving touchdown of the season.
“It felt good to catch the ball again,” Johnson said. “Everybody was hungry out there trying to make plays.”
The Bulls set a season high for total yards and had a trio of 100-yard rushers (Flowers, Tice and Johnson) against Illinois. Through the air, four different receivers caught a touchdown.
“It was a total offensive effort,” Strong said. “Quinton did a good job putting the ball in different playmaker’s hands.”
After posting 680 total yards last week, the Bull’s offense is in a prime position to succeed again, with Temple allowing 523 rushing yards and 943 passing yards this season.
USF will also need to prepare their special teams units better than they have in the first three games of 2017.
The Bulls have had blocked kicks in each of their games this season, while Temple has led the NCAA in blocked kicks for the last three seasons with 17 total blocks.
“It’s all fixable,” Strong said. “It’s a matter of us putting the right people out there and getting the right people in place and those things won’t happen.”