Owls’ pass rush earns Temple bowl eligibility with 17-7 win over USF

The Temple Owls (6-3, 3-2) picked up their sixth win of the 2019 regular season, providing them with bowl eligibility for the sixth consecutive year. Their offense was pretty listless before senior running back Jager Gardner bounced a second quarter run to the outside for a 57-yard gain. That set up backup quarterback Todd Centeio’s one-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Kenny Yeboah. It was Temple’s lone offensive touchdown in their 17-7 victory over American Athletic Conference East Division foe USF (4-5, 2-3). The Owls’ defensive line excelled, however, and placed substantial pressure on freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud.

Seemingly Constant Pressure

Graduate student defensive end DeAndre Kelley produced Temple’s first of their nine total sacks, forcing McCloud to fumble on first-and-10 at the Owls 28-yard line. Temple roughed the kicker earlier in the drive, and the recovery from senior linebacker Shaun Bradley halted USF’s momentum. 

Redshirt junior defensive end Quincy Roche constantly worked his way to stymie McCloud, whether it was pressuring him or coming up with his team-high 3.5 sacks. He matched teammate Audley Issac’s (R-So.) team-high six tackles. Isaac’s role heightened following linebacker Chapelle Russell’s (Grad.) ejection for targeting. Roche bumped his season sack total to 6.5, and Thursday’s win could be the night that moves the needle in his season’s trajectory. He’s arguably Temple’s premier pass rusher. 

Fellow defensive end Dana Levine (R-Sr.) had a near-safety and 1.5 sacks, one when he obliterated McCloud as Levine blindsided him. Senior linebacker Sam Franklin capitalized on cornerback Christian Braswell’s (R-So.) forced fumble to pick up the recovery for a touchdown in the third quarter. 

Courtesy of nine sacks, which ESPN noted was Temple’s most since Sept. 15, 2017 against UMass, the Owls held the Bulls to a mere 61 yards on 37 rushes. Senior running back Jordan Cronkrite rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, but Temple limited him to just 21 yards on eight carries. Temple was noticeably quick to the ball carrier Thursday night, as their run defense looked stout.

No Davis, “No” Problem

Senior running back Jager Gardner broke two tackles en route to his 57-yard gain and provided consistent yardage out of the backfield, with freshman Re’Mahn Davis sidelined. Thursday marked the first time Gardner eclipsed the 100-yard mark this season, as his power helped him to finish with 133 yards on 25 rushes. Tayvon Ruley backed up Gardner and had an impact on Temple’s first possession, as the redshirt junior finished with 29 yards on six carries.

More Ups and Downs in the Passing Game

Centeio backed up junior Anthony Russo in his typical fashion, providing a dual threat ability to mix up Temple’s offensive style. He recorded only throwing two passes for three yards and a touchdown, but he also threw a designed pass for Gardner in the flat that went backward. Gardner took “the pitch” 12 yards, boosting Gardner’s stats instead.

Russo connected with Jadan Blue 11 times for 121 yards and had a performance featuring some highs and an evident low point. Russo’s main highlight came when he threw a 36-yard fade to Blue that fell right into his lap in stride, which set up Will Mobley’s 44-yard field goal. Blue is a dynamic sophomore who’s capable of being featured in a plethora of different routes on the route tree. He now has 672 receiving yards this season, which leads the Owls.

Russo threw an interception on Temple’s opening drive in the second half. Thursday was his third straight game failing to reach a 60.0 quarterback rating. Russo’s two marquee passes were a deep route to Blue and a seam route to him, extending Temple’s penultimate drive which bled the clock. He concluded his outing going 15-for-21 passing with 164 yards.

His counterpart, McCloud, threw for 225 yards on 38 attempts and had to endure constant pressure from Temple’s pass rush. He threw a beautiful, deep-ish crossing pattern to sophomore wideout Bryce Miller (four receptions for 44 receiving yards) for a 14-yard touchdown.

Special (And Not-So-Special) Teams Performance

Temple punter Adam Barry (So.) placed a punt that was saved at the one-yard line and finished with a 41.5-yard punt average on four punts. Wide receiver Isaiah Wright muffed a punt, extending his drop concerns.

Looking Ahead

The difference between 6-3 and 5-4 is monumental from both a wins perspective and team psyche. Temple snaps their two-game losing streak while knowing they’ll likely be playing at some point this winter to earn their second bowl win in three seasons. The Owls host upstart Tulane (6-3, 3-2) next Saturday at noon, looking to extend momentum.