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Defense emerges as USF prepares for Temple

 

It was Temple that threw the wrench in the gears last year for USF.

TAMPA — It was Temple that threw the wrench in the gears last year. When the Owls beat South Florida, 46-30, it hung a second loss around the Bulls’ necks and took some of the luster off what would end up being a 10-2 record.

Not that 10-2 is all that bad, it’s just that the Bulls and most around them felt that there was a strong possibility of winning out after the loss to Florida State and had their sights set on a possible AAC championship. Temple took all that away.

Now Temple is back in town today for a 7:30 p.m. game that doesn’t have nearly the implications of last year’s battle because last year, the Owls were pretty good and this year they’re not.

Candidly, there seems to be no way the Owls can stage a repeat performance. Last year’s quarterback, P.J. Walker, is gone and he sparked the offense as a poor man’s Quinton Flowers, if you will.

Of course, USF head coach Charlie Strong is buying none of that and he shouldn’t. Although they’re 3-0, the Bulls have let three teams they should have controlled from the opening kickoff hang around far too long and Strong would like to see that change, needs to see it change.

In the first game, San Jose State led 16-0 after the first quarter, Stony Brook led 10-7 at the half and the Bulls only led Illinois 16-9 with 2:18 left in the half last week. This despite the fact that USF had gone up and down the field at will, racking up 384 yards of total offense.

“It’s about coming out fast, the defense going out and getting some stops and the offense getting in rhythm, getting first downs, driving the football,” Strong said.

Ah yes. The defense. Going into the season and early on, it’s been all about the USF offense, Quinton Flowers and the playmakers (and no, that’s not the name of a band). And despite the slow starts, the offense has pretty much lived up to it’s billing.But quietly, under the guidance of defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary and with the help of a number of standout seniors like linebacker Augie Sanchez, tackle Bruce Hector and defensive back Detrick Nichols, USF has gone from one of the worst defenses in the country to one of the best.

Some numbers for you: Last year, USF ranked 120 out of 128 teams in total defense, allowing 482 yards a game. This year it ranks 41st, allowing 323.3 yards per game. In 2016, the Bulls were 84th in rushing defense giving up 196.5 yards per game. This year they’re 14th allowing just 89.3 yards per contest. Last year, they ranked 92nd in scoring defense, allowing 31.6 points per game. They’re 47th now giving up 20.7 points per game.

By the way, Temple gained 319 yards rushing in its win over USF a year ago. In three games this year USF has given up just 268.

“The defense is getting off blocks, tackling as a group and corralling the ball,” Strong said. “The guys are playing hard. They’re getting better.”

And, as Temple will likely find out, so is USF.

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http://www.theledger.com

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