PHILADELPHIA — USF's spiral continues.
Despite the Bulls' defense answering the call, the offense and special teams failed to respond as the Owls reeled off 27 unanswered points in the second half, storming back for a 27-17 win Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Special teams mistakes and a stagnant offense cost the Bulls (7-4, 3-4 American Athletic Conference) in the second half. Immediately after allowing a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown to Temple receiver Isaiah Wright, they gave up an onside kick at midfield.
"It's one of those games where it's almost like you gave it away," coach Charlie Strong said. "We never moved the ball, we never sustained drives and didn't score any points."
The Bulls entered the game 121st in Division I-A against the run, allowing nearly 250 yards a game, but managed to contain Temple — led by star running back Ryquell Armstead — to 74 yards on the day.
But Temple used quarterback Anthony Russo's chunk passes, and Armstead's short-yardage power, to mount a comeback.
USF quarterback Blake Barnett was questionable going into the game with a shoulder injury, and finished 14-of-23 for 82 yards with two interceptions and two fumbles, one leading to a turnover. The Owls stifled all nine second-half USF drives.
"It's really hard for me to not put that all on myself," Barnett said. "You can't have turnovers like that, gotta play better. I have to take it as a lesson."
The last time USF lost four straight was in Willie Taggart's inaugural season in 2013, when they went 2-10.
Jordan Cronkrite broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season with a 49-yard run on the Bulls' first drive. He became the fifth player to do so. He tallied 83 yards on 17 carries and scored two touchdowns.
"It's bittersweet," the junior said. "A lot of my role models, they've done it numerous times and that's a great feeling. But it's bittersweet right now."
Both teams committed to the running game in the first half, but only the Bulls found success, managing 140 yards at halftime, while holding Armstead to 34. Armstead has been battling an ankle injury for several weeks, but rushed for 210 yards and six touchdowns last week in a 59-49 win against Houston.
But the improved rushing defense didn't stop the momentum shift.
"Our attention to detail (changed)," said USF defensive back Ronnie Hoggins, who had an interception. "We missed a lot of tackles in the second half."
Tight end Mitchell Wilcox left the game with an ankle injury in the first half and didn't return.
"It hurts when you lose him because he's so valuable to the offense," Strong said. "But we still have other players out there who can make plays and we just didn't make any."
The Bulls face UCF in the War on I-4 Friday at home.
"We've got our rival, the team out East next, so we have to move on and get on to the next one," Hoggins said.
EJ Smith, Special to the Times