Steady April showers may have dampened the spirit of the crowd which assembled to get an early preview of what new coach Geoff Collins’ Temple Owls will bring to the table this fall. But it did nothing to answer the question everyone wants answered.
Who will take departed quarterback Philip "P.J." Walker’s place?
Right now Collins has four candidates for the job, each of whom had his moments during the Owls’ annual Cherry and White Day game to mark the end of spring practice. But while holdovers Frank Nutile, known to his coach as “Frankie Juice,” and Logan Marchi and freshman Anthony Russo and Todd Centaio, have skills, none of them is a Carson Wentz, QB of the team Temple shares the Linc with.
So the fact that the most impressive thing the Owls had going was their running game — even though Jahad Thomas and his 2,599 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns is also gone — could bode well for a team that won 21 games the last two years under Walker and Matt Rhule.
"We established the run today," Collins, who was most pleased with his team’s competitive nature, particularly playing under such adverse conditions which he said at other places he’s been guys would’ve “gone through the motions."
"The big thing for us offensively is that we want to be able to impose our will whenever we want to. And that means being physical, being tough and really getting after people. When you replace a guy like P.J., the all-time leading quarterback here [10,669 yards passing with 74 TDs], guys have really embraced it. We have a veteran receiver corps, which has really helped the quarterbacks. And backs like Rock [Ryquell Armstead] and Jager [Gardner, who was the unofficial star of the game, rushing for 67 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries] were running the ball great. The way they guys have rallied along the quarterbacks I think is gonna help them.”
Nutile and Marchi, the only QBs permitted to talk since the others are freshman, agree.
“It feels good after 14 days to come out there and make plays and have fun,” said the 6-foot-4, 219 pound junior Nutile, whose highlights were a 37-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Johnson and a 16-yard TD run on the option. “Throughout spring ball I continued to get better and more comfortable with the offense. There’s great competition. You saw today everyone can spin the ball. I’m excited for camp starting up in the summer.”
So is Marchi, a redshirt sophomore who says his elusiveness and ability to improvise are his greatest strengths.
“I think it went well,” said Marchi, who did throw two interceptions among his 10 pass attempts. “It’s good to see guys get live reps. But you’re not gonna replace P.J., so you just go out and be best guy you can be. Learning from P.J. was more observation. He was a vocal leader but also he led by example, being calm, cool and collected.”
Nutile, who threw two incomplete passes last season while Marchi went 2-for-6 for 29 yards, says there’s more to it than that.
"P..J was probably the best quarterback to ever come through here,” said Nutile, who said Collins was the one who started calling him Frankie Juice and the nickname stuck. “My last two years being with him he really did a great job showing me how to watch tape and pick up things. So I think we’re in a good spot, because he led the way for us by paving the way.”
That doesn’t mean whoever gets the call should be expected to pick up where Walker left off. “I think we can take some of slack off the quarterback,” said Gardner, who figures to easily surpass his 111 yards on 29 carries as a freshman. “Gradually by the end of spring ball, you get used to different guys. But at the end of the day everyone just wants to go out and play.”
Will it be Nutile, Marchi, Russo or Centaio by the time the Owls square off against Notre Dame in South Bend on Sept. 2?
On an April showers Cherry and White Day, we learned only one thing: The competition is just beginning.