Defense dominates Temple’s Cherry and White game

Temple Football hosted its annual spring scrimmage on Saturday, and the Owls’ defense significantly outshined the offense.

Temple’s offense struggled at Saturday’s Cherry and White game, but the Owls’ defense looked strong, earning 13 sacks on the day. | LANDON STAFFORD / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Fans packed the sidelines at Edberg-Olson Hall Saturday to watch Temple Football’s annual Cherry and White game. The Owls added 43 new players during the offseason so far, and this weekend’s practice was the first time fans saw the new additions in action.

This was the third straight year Temple held the event with head coach Stan Drayton after former coach Rod Carey ended the tradition in 2019 to prevent injuries. The game was a live scrimmage in the first half, while the second half was non-contact to eliminate injury risk, Drayton said.

“This has been a really good spring for us,” Drayton said. “Really good when we get a chance to come out fairly healthy. I thought our players really had a good approach to the spring season right off the jump.”

Temple’s biggest offseason storyline was arguably its quarterback battle after E.J. Warner’s departure on Nov. 28. The Owls added Rutgers transfer Evan Simon and Montana transfer Clifton McDowell to compete for the starting job, but when McDowell re-entered the transfer portal on March 25, Simon had a chance to step into the role.

However, quarterback Forrest Brock took the majority of the first-team snaps on Chodoff Field. Brock had the best stats of the four quarterbacks, making plays with his legs while also looking the most comfortable in the pocket. Brock had 10 completions for 102 yards and the touchdown.

Brock made a touchdown pass to tight end Reese Clark and almost threw another to wide receiver Dante Wright, which Wright dropped. Brock swapped with Simon and quarterbacks Tyler Douglas and Patrick Keller, but the other three showed flashes without standing. Simon completed just six of his 14 passes on the day.

Drayton has stated the starting job is wide open, but the quarterbacks’ performances seemed to leave Drayton lacking confidence in the unit ahead of its season opener with Oklahoma on Aug. 30.

“I don’t know if our quarterbacks are ready for that yet,” Drayton said. “There’s not a whole lot of flinching that goes on in their approach. There were a couple of weeks we had the quarterbacks live, and they handled the pressure well. I just think that the development still needs to take place regardless of them taking command of the offense.”

Clark made an impression during the afternoon, taking multiple slant routes into opposing territory and earning his touchdown. Clark finished the scrimmage as Temple’s leading receiver with five catches for 87 yards.

Tight ends David Martin-Robinson and Jordan Smith both left the program for the NFL Draft during the offseason, and Clark is expected to fill in the gaps. His coaches have seen a tremendous improvement from the redshirt sophomore’s maturity.

“He’s grown up,” Drayton said. “He’s no longer acting and playing like a freshman, and you see it in every phase of his life. In my two years with him, he’s done nothing but humbled himself and dive into the preparation of trying to make himself a better person, a better football player.”

The offense showed flashes, but the defense had its way all day in its 56-41 win. The Owls’ defense flew to the ball on three levels and got to the opposing quarterbacks all afternoon, racking up 13 sacks. Defensive end Diwun Black led the way for the unit, picking up an impressive six sacks.

Temple’s run defense was lackluster last season, ranking 124 out of 130 FBS teams in rushing yards allowed per game. Defensive coordinator Everett Withers changed the team’s scheme from a 3-4 to a 4-3 to include more defensive linemen, and Temple brought in players like Georgia Tech transfer Jason Moore and JUCO transfer Sekou Kromah to bolster the line.

The changes seemed to pay off. Kromah finished with nine tackles and two sacks, and London Hall recovered a fumble from running back Kyle Williams and returned it for a touchdown.

“I like this scheme a lot,” said defensive end Tra Thomas. “I’ve been playing this scheme since high school. I feel like it stops the run easily.”

The secondary also saw highlights throughout the day as former Arkansas cornerback Jaylen Lewis picked off Brock to close out the afternoon. The defensive back unit has faced some turnover, losing three starters last season, but the newly acquired players carried the energy.

“Football is a physical game,” said safety Andreas Keaton, who transferred from Western Carolina. “It can be mentally fun, mentally draining. One of the main things Coach Drayton emphasizes is ‘have fun.’ That’s a mandatory thing. That’s how you can make more plays.”

While the spring game gives the fans a glimpse into the team, it isn’t a litmus test of what to expect going into the 2024 season. There are still incoming transfers and freshmen set to arrive on North Broad Street during the summer.

The Owls will now focus on preparing for the season ahead, and there is still much that Drayon wants to see from his team between April and August.

“We’ve recruited some natural leaders,” Drayton said. “They’re just waiting their time. They’re trying to earn it the right way, which is very special when you see individuals that have that kind of social awareness about themselves and understanding their role on this football team. I’m just waiting to see them emerge.”

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