USF earned its first win over an FBS opponent in almost two years with a 34-14 victory over Temple on Saturday night.
The Bulls (2-5, 1-2 AAC) earned their win behind a record-breaking rushing attack led by the duo of junior running back Jaren Mangham and sophomore Kelley Joiner Jr., both of whom rushed for over 100 yards and averaged over five yards per carry. USF tallied 421 yards on the ground, breaking the single-game program record of 416 set in 2016 against Memphis.
“At some point you have to learn how to win,” coach Jeff Scott said. “I’m glad to get that over, and hopefully it’ll be four days or five days that we can set a new record there quicker.”
In addition to the work of Mangham and Joiner Jr., the Bulls also enjoyed rushing success from sophomore Brian Battie, who finished with 77 yards.
“We’ve got talented running backs [and] a talented offensive line that has great chemistry,” Scott said. “We didn’t know we had the record until the very end … That’s a great accomplishment for that group to have for their careers.”
Mangham and Joiner combined for three touchdowns, with the former scoring a pair. The junior now has 12 scores on the season, nearing the single-season record of 18 rushing touchdowns currently held by former quarterback Quinton Flowers.
Although Mangham’s stats are eye-popping, he believes the offensive line deserves the credit for his success this season.
“I did not know I was six away from that record,” Mangham said. “The offensive line is six [touchdowns] away with me, that’s our record.”
USF’s offense took advantage of a well-known weakness for Temple (3-4,1-2 AAC). Coming into Saturday’s matchup, Temple’s defense allowed an average of 196.7 rushing yards per game, second worst in the conference.
The run-heavy attack also helped the Bulls dominate the time of possession. USF held the ball for 44:35 compared to Temple’s 15:25.
“It seems fake,” Mangham said. “Tremendous job on the line making holes for us backs to run through all night.”
While the matchup against the Owls favored a run-heavy game plan, senior center Brad Cecil said he sees the offense running the ball more in the future.
“I think both of our passing game and our running game are equally as dangerous,” Cecil said. “It just happened to be tonight that our plan was to run the ball, and I think that moving forward, we’re definitely going to be pounding the ball like we did tonight.”
The Bulls’ defense also built upon an impressive performance last week against Tulsa, forcing two turnovers and holding the Owls to just 34 rushing yards.
The tone was set early in the game following a botched snap on a USF field-goal attempt that saw junior tight end Chris Carter chase down Temple junior cornerback Keyshawn Paul the length of the field and tackle him short of the goal line.
“The play of the game to me was early in the first quarter, Chris Carter, that was just the play of the game right there,” Scott said. “It’s a great example of [a negative] event that happens. What’s your response going to be?
“You can’t control the event, it just happened, but your response is going to dictate the outcome.”
Carter’s efforts eventually led to the first of Temple’s turnovers as safety Mekhi LaPointe intercepted Temple quarterback D’Wan Mathis’ pass in the end zone.
Grier and the rest of the defense were set to go despite the precarious situation, and didn’t blink when asked to go out on the field and make a goal-line stand.
“On the sideline we did not flinch,” Grier said. “We were like, ‘Defense let’s go.’ We put on our hats and we went to business.”
Aside from a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter, USF’s defense shut the Owls out for the remainder of the second half.
The only negative was an apparent ankle injury suffered by freshman quarterback Timmy McClain, who didn’t see the field in the second half. Sophomores Katravis Marsh and Cade Fortin split the reps to finish the game.
Scott said McClain was cleared to play, but he wanted to be cautious with his starter given the quick turnaround to next week’s game against ECU.
“Timmy tweaked his ankle a little bit,” Scott said. “I think Timmy will play Thursday, we’ll see. I don’t know, it’s too early to tell.”
In a game full of record-breaking offensive performances and defensive dominance, Scott was most proud of his team’s resiliency coming off its most recent loss to Tulsa and breaking a trend of poor responses to close losses.
“This team chose an uncommon response, you don’t have to look very far to see FBS teams come off a heartbreaking loss and then the next week it doesn’t go well,” Scott said.
“I really feel that this group is different … I told the players I’m proud of them.”
USF will travel to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in North Carolina to battle ECU on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.