The Temple Owls developed high expectations after the first half of the year. But after a 5-1 start, they allowed 108 combined points to SMU and UCF to dash their AAC title hopes.
They hope to get a reprieve facing the 85th-ranked scoring offense of the USF Bulls. Though they put up 45 on East Carolina last week, the Bulls have scored 24 combined points against their three .500+ opponents.
A 4-4 team, USF seems as uneven as their record dictates. Their lack of stability at quarterback and inability to stop the pass-rush (127th in opposing sack rate) are just a sample of the big issues they have.
Temple is sitting at 5-3 despite not ranking in the top-65 in either scoring defense or offense. Their O has fallen from 24th last season to 76th in 2019. Though most of their individual stats look comparable or better than last season, their red zone offense is sitting at 88th and their 3rd down percentage dropped from 50th last season to 87th.
But with USF ranking 118th in 3rd down defense, could this be the break Temple is looking for?
The Owls come in as two-point betting favorites against the Bulls this Thursday in Tampa, according to MyBookie. Here’s a breakdown for when each team has the ball. Here’s a wagering breakdown to decide whether they will or not.
Temple Offense vs USF Defense
While the Bulls are prone to giving up big plays for scores, they still maintain the 8th-best red zone defense. This could make life tough for this Temple team, as they are more prone to scoring on methodical drives.
What they will need is the return of the run game, the one that averaged 1.1 yards a carry last week, or 1.8 if you don’t count the sacks of quarterback Anthony Russo. They averaged 2.1 YPA the week before that, and 4.0 against Memphis. They haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in any of the four games they’ve played against .500 or above teams.
USF’s defensive front is above average (45th) at getting to the quarterback. But their inability stuffing short runs when they matter (101st in power success) speaks to why they rank 118th in 3rd down defense. While the Owls might rely heavily on Anthony Russo, he’s rather sporadic.
What he may struggle with is throwing the ball downfield consistently if the run game doesn’t come around. He does possess a solid trio of receivers, but he’s facing a Bulls D ranked 23rd in interceptions.
If Russo doesn’t have to deal with the pass-rush, which troubled him against Buffalo (three sacks, three INTs) and UCF (four sacks, two INTs), he might come out unscathed. But this is still a guy with 22 career interceptions in 19 games, so making poor decisions with the ball could bail out a bad third-down defense.
USF Offense vs Temple Defense
If there’s one exciting element to the USF offense these days, it’s the play of RB Jordan Cronkrite. After averaging 2.3 YPA in his first four games of the season, the Bulls RB is running at a 6.8 clip in his last four contests.
The Bulls place 7th in offensive line efficiency against the run game and 3rd on passing downs. Their power success (short-yardage, late-down situations) is also tremendous, ranking 3rd in the FBS. But giving up big sacks
in big moments makes them susceptible.
Temple’s DT Ifeanyi Maijeh is a force inside with six sacks and 10 tackles-for-loss. Dana Levine (four sacks) and Quincy Roche (three) can also get to the quarterback. But overall, Temple is a middle-of-the-road squad upfront. They’re stingy in short-yardage situations, though, ranking 25th in power success and 18th in stuff rate. Getting outside the tackles will help Cronkrite in this game.
The real question is whether the quarterback situation can settle for USF. After returning starter Blake Barnett’s ankle injury ended his season, Jordan McCloud became the next man up. He’s hampered by his own ankle issues but will play Saturday. At 6.3 YPA, he’s not exactly picking apart the AAC.
Jah’Quez Evans (11 carries, 122 yards) gave USF a new wrinkle to throw at opponents from the QB position. But the freshman is going through concussion protocols after a hit he took at ECU, so he’s questionable.
Although Temple doesn’t bring clamp-down corners to the fold, it’s still more important they make McCloud win the game. With Evans not there to counter Cronkrite, most of the load goes on the starting RB’s shoulders.
USF vs Temple Betting Prediction
Temple, despite their rushing woes of late, will do better than they have all year in short-yardage situations.
Cronkrite is still the best back on the field. But he’s facing a defensive line statistically close to that of SMU and Wisconsin, two opponents the back struggled mightily against. Temple ranks in the top-25 on their defensive front. The three teams Cronkrite earned over 125 yards against are ranked 120th, 125th, and 82nd.
Temple and USF both have their insecurities in the passing game. McCloud can make plays with his feet, though, and isn’t quite as careless as Russo is with the ball. USF’s offensive line plays poor in protection, but there’s not a slew of excellent pass-rushers on the other side. Maijeh is a worry, but they can key on him.
Despite Cronkrite not having a great performance against a great d-line, I’m still more confident in a former 1,000-yard back to get going than I am a doormat Temple ground game. While USF’s defense does give up 3rd downs at an alarming rate, they’re also ballhawks in the secondary against an erratic quarterback.
Because of that, I’m picking USF in a lower-scoring game with a field goal differential.
Prediction: USF 24, Temple 21