TAMPA — Backed up in his end zone, Temple quarterback Logan Marchi scrambled, trying to elude a USF defensive end coming straight for him. Until then, Marchi hadn't had much luck hitting his receivers.
But in that moment, he had no trouble finding one playing for USF.
Lying in wait on the Temple 20-yard line, cornerback Deatrick Nichols snatched a Marchi pass out of the air. Yards away from any Temple players, he ran toward the end zone, switching directions once before being brought down after a 14-yard return.
That interception, Nichols' second of the night, put the Bulls atop the NCAA with 10 picks on the season. More important, USF's offense benefitted from six total Temple turnovers — four of them interceptions — on the way to routing the Owls 43-7 on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium.
"(Six turnovers is) amazing," running back Darius Tice said. "When you see things like that happening and the energy those guys are playing with, they're playing lights out. They're playing for each other. … That kind of effort is contagious, and it spreads throughout the team."
Nichols, a 5-foot-10 senior, stood out in the first half of a lopsided game. Early in the first quarter, he made a diving grab for his first interception of Marchi, setting up a 44-yard field goal that put USF on the board in a game in which it never trailed.
In the second quarter, Nichols forced a fumble on the first play of a Temple drive, and that turnover led to another USF field goal, a 28-yarder from Emilio Nadelman.
Early in the third quarter, safety Devin Abraham joined in on the defensive fun, picking off Temple quarterback Frank Nutile and returning it 26 yards. Four plays — all carries by Tice — later, the Bulls were in the end zone, leading 27-7.
On the next Temple possession, USF's Nico Sawtelle recovered a fumble. On the Owls' next series, Sawtelle intercepted Marchi for the Bulls' fourth pick of the night.
"We were blitzing them, and we were making the quarterback feel offbalanced," linebacker Auggie Sanchez said. "He didn't have enough time, so when he decided to throw the ball, we were there. We made the plays."
USF's picking prowess was far from just a reflection of a lackluster Temple offense. The Bulls had three interceptions in their opener against San Jose State, two against Stony Brook and three last week in a victory over Illinois. Seven Bulls have at least one, and Abraham leads the way with three.
Coach Charlie Strong was matter-of-fact about the benefit of interceptions to his team's showing Thursday night. With 18 possessions, the Bulls should have found the end zone even more, he said.
"Usually in a game with no turnovers, you're going to get probably 12 possessions," Strong said. "Once you create more possessions, you have more opportunities to score."
In Strong's mind, the defense's job is pretty simple. Thursday, there was little doubt the Bulls did what they were supposed to do.
"I just think you have to be aggressive," Strong said, "and that's what they are."