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Observations from Temple’s 39-37 win over South Florida

The Owls overcame an 11-point deficit to win their first game.

Temple quarterback Anthony Russo throws the ball under pressure in the second quarter against USF.
Temple quarterback Anthony Russo throws the ball under pressure in the second quarter against USF.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

For the second week in a row, Temple was involved in a back-and-forth game that didn’t lack offense. The favored Owls came back from an 11-point deficit late in the third quarter to beat South Florida, 39-37, on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.

Here are observations from that game in which Temple improved to 1-1 overall and in the American Athletic Conference, and USF fell to 1-4, 0-3.

Showing fight

Temple was down, 31-20, when Jared Sackett kicked a 29-yard field goal with 3 minutes, 16 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Owls were wildly inconsistent at that point but pulled it together to score 19 unanswered points.

While some may ask how the Owls could have been down to one of the lesser teams in the AAC, the fact that they did have enough to come back showed some character, even though there is plenty to work on before visiting defending AAC champ Memphis next week.

» READ MORE: Temple tips USF, 39-37, on a late two-point conversion stop

Final two-point play

USF got to within 39-37 on a 1-yard run with 1:03 left. The Bulls brought in running quarterback Noah Johnson, and Temple was prepared. The Owls forced Johnson to the outside, and Amir Tyler made the saving tackle.

Not much early effort by USF

Temple had little trouble on its first offensive drive, and USF didn’t come to play on this first series. On the touchdown, which was called a pass but was really a glorified run, Jadan Blue wasn’t touched. That is difficult to do on basically a carry from five yards out.

Maybe Temple thought it would be this easy all day, but USF rebounded from that first drive and gave the Owls fits the rest of the afternoon.

Secondary concerns

Temple’s secondary didn’t get much work against Navy, which attempted two passes (and completed both on screens) in last week’s 31-29 win over the Owls.

This time, the Owls got burned on a several pass plays, and the first two touchdowns weren’t even close.

The first, a 13-yard scoring pass from Jordan McCloud to Randall St. Felix, has the USF receiver isolated on Tyler. St. Felix easy beat him off the ball for the touchdown. (That play aside, Tyler had a solid game for the Owls).

On the second touchdown, DeVontre Dukes got way behind corner Elijah Clark for a 28-yard scoring pass in stride. Temple also had two pass interference calls in the first half.

For a team that entered the contest averaging 14.5 points and had only one touchdown pass in its first four games, USF had a 21-17 lead at halftime and confidence.

USF added a third scoring pass from McCloud to Johnny Ford in the back of the end zone. McCloud bought time so Ford could get open.

» READ MORE: Maybe 2020 owed Temple football a good afternoon | Mike Jensen

Special teams struggles

Temple continues to struggle on special teams, especially kick coverage. A 35-yard kickoff return by Leonard Parker to the Temple 49-yard-line set up the Bulls first touchdown.

Late in the half, the Owls also allowed USF to recover its own bouncing kickoff that went 36 yards.

On the final play of the first half, Temple’s Will Mobley had a 36-yard field goal attempt blocked.

In the third quarter, after Temple cut the deficit to 21-20 on a field goal, the Owls allowed Ford to take a 44-yard kickoff return to the Temple 46. That led to another USF touchdown.

In all fairness, with 11:29 left in the fourth quarter, an Adam Barry punt was downed on the USF 2-yard-line by Freddie Johnson on a great hustle play.

Getting Blue the ball

Anytime the Owls could get Blue the ball in open space is a good idea. Either that, or man-on-man coverage. He’s great after the catch but also has improved his route running, as he proved on his 13-yard scoring pass. Look how wide open he was on an out and up route.

More on Blue

With 2:17 left in the third quarter, Blue was leveled by linebacker Antonio Grier on an incomplete pass over the middle in a tight window. Blue took some time before getting up, and Grier was disqualified for targeting. Showing his toughness, Blue returned to the lineup a play later. He finished with nine receptions for 60 yards and two touchdowns.

Ill-advised picks

Most interceptions aren’t advised, but Russo had two key interceptions. The second one, picked off by Daquan Evans, Russo underthrew Branden Mack in the third quarter. Evans returned it 56 yards to the Temple 10. If there is any consolation, Russo hustled and made the tackle. His first interception, by Mekh LaPointe, also led to a touchdown. While Russo underthrew the ball on the interception by Evans, he overthrew the 6-foot-5 Mack on the interception by LaPointe.

Unbelievable pass

It was one of the best passes that Russo ever made, hitting Mack in stride for a 12-yard score. Russo threw the ball before Mack got open and had a very tight area to make that pass. Evans had tight coverage on Mack, but the throw was perfectly placed.

Bad two-point conversion

Temple went for the PAT after that Mack touchdown, but a USF penalty had Temple instead go for two points. The Owls tried a trick play, with Mack taking the handoff, and Russo going out for a pass. The only problem was that USF safety Nick Roberts read the play and was right on Russo. The ball wasn’t caught, but even if it had been, Roberts was right there to make the tackle.

Last week, Temple coach Rod Carey said he made a bad call on a the two-point conversion that could have tied the game at 31-31, but resulted in an incomplete pass. This call wasn’t much better.