After losing its previous two games by a total of 66 points, Temple bounced back with Thursday night’s 17-7 win at South Florida in an American Athletic Conference game.

Temple (6-3, 3-2 AAC) is now bowl eligible and remains in the race for the AAC East crown, although at two games behind Cincinnati, the Owls will need help. Temple got some help on Friday when Tulsa upset Central Florida, 34-31. That also leaves UCF two games behind Cincinnati in the loss column.

USF (4-5, 2-3) will have trouble becoming bowl eligible with a highly difficult remaining schedule.

Here are five takeaways from the game.

Sack attack

Defensive end Quincy Roche entered the game with three sacks. He more than doubled that total with 3.5 of the Owls’ nine sacks. Granted, USF went through three left tackles in the game because of injury, but it didn’t matter because Roche was shedding double teams and having the type of game that has made the 6-foot-4, 235-pound redshirt junior an intriguing pro prospect.

He has great quickness and showed it all night. Roche was the leader, but the entire Temple defensive line was formidable. Of the nine sacks, eight came from defensive linemen and one was a team sack. And Temple would have had more sacks if USF quarterback Jordan McCloud didn’t escape danger several times with his excellent scrambling ability.

Strong play by Isaacs

After Temple linebacker Chapelle Russell got ejected in the first quarter for targeting, he was replaced by redshirt sophomore Audley Isaacs, a Valley Forge Military Academy alum. It was the first extensive action of his career, although the week before, he had a career-high three tackles in the 63-21 loss to Central Florida.

Against USF, Isaacs shared the team lead with Roche by recording six tackles and often had the responsibility of covering tight end Mitch Wilcox, who had five receptions for 55 yards. With Isaiah Graham-Mobley out injured and Russell ejected, the linebacking corps was depleted, but Isaacs showed why this remains the deepest position on the team.

Starters Shaun Bradley and Sam Franklin (who scored on a 39-yard fumble recovery) enjoyed strong games as well.

Temple running back Jager Gardner (21) picks up yardage against South Florida during the first half.
Chris O'Meara / AP
Temple running back Jager Gardner (21) picks up yardage against South Florida during the first half.

Gardner steps up

With freshman Re’Mahn Davis, Temple’s leading rusher, out because of injury, the Owls had to lean heavily on redshirt senior Jager Gardner, who responded with the best game of his career. Gardner had 25 carries for 133 yards, both career highs.

He set up the first touchdown with a 57-yard run, got tough yards inside and also broke to the outside. In addition, junior Tayvon Ruley saw his most extensive action and did well with 29 yards on six carries.

Offense had issues

The Owls offense scored just one touchdown, Kenny Yeboah’s 1-yard scoring pass from Todd Centeio in the second quarter. Temple missed open receivers, had untimely penalties, and was basically bailed out by its defense.

One offensive player who stood out was receiver Jadan Blue, who had 11 receptions for 121 yards. Blue often caught short passes and then used his running ability to gain extra yards. Blue had totaled just 149 receiving yards over his previous four games, so getting him in the attack was a positive.

Stopping the run

While so much was made of all the sacks, and rightly so, the key to winning was stopping what had been a formidable Bulls ground game. USF was limited to 61 yards rushing, although the sack total had a lot to do with that.

Not counting quarterback McCloud, USF’s other players rushed 19 times for 61 yards. Breakaway threat Jordan Cronkrite was held to 21 yards on eight carries. USF entered the game averaging 180.5 rushing yards. Forcing McCloud into so many passing situations was a key to the win.