As practice wrapped up this afternoon, Matt Rhule had one last task for the defense.
The offense headed to the north side of the Chodoff Field while the defense stayed near the south end zone and divided up into four groups, two on each side of the field.
Rhule, standing in the middle of the field between the defensive groups, yelled for people to hurry up and get into position. Assistants quickly dropped off either a cooler or a trash can in front of each group of players.
When Rhule said to start, the players rushed to the closest cooler or trash can, pulled out a water balloon and started throwing them at each other.
Senior defensive tackle Levi Brown immediately targeted redshirt-freshman defensive back Nate L. Smith. Even Rhule was chased around by sophomore linebacker Tyler Matakevich. By the time it was over, the field was littered with broken balloons.
“I had no clue,” Matakevich said. “I didn’t even know what we were doing. I thought we were just getting ready to run a lot. Coach Rhule and all these coaches are definitely trying to have fun with us and stuff like that because we’re working hard, and they’re working just as hard as us.”
“They didn’t know we were gonna do it,” Rhule said. “We were gonna do it for everybody, but the offense wasn’t practicing the way we wanted them to and the defense was flying around all day. It’s the first time in a long time I’ve seen the defense play like that. They got to have fun, the offense got to go practice a little more.”
The defense looked sharp in the half hour of practice open to the media. With the exception of two long touchdowns – a run along the sidelines by freshman running back Zaire Williams and a deep pass from redshirt-junior quarterback Connor Reilly to sophomore wide receiver Samuel Benjamin – the offense was held to short gains or incompletions.
“It was one of those whole day things,” Rhule said of the offense. “We sat a couple guys on the ones to keep them fresh. We had a couple young guys playing. It just wasn’t crisp enough.”
“The defense, they get ahead of themselves a lot,” senior quarterback Juice Granger said. “It’s not what the defense does, it’s what we do to ourselves. Not playing hard, not playing smart on the offensive side of the ball.”
Granger said the coaches were unhappy with the tempo in the scrimmage.
“In practice, the defense knows a lot of our plays,” Granger said. “A lot of guys were loafing on offense. That’s my job, to pass the energy along the offense.”
Granger got the majority of the snaps, although Reilly still got a significant amount. Granger was more consistent, while Reilly showed flashes of great play but also had trouble completing some short passes.
“I think he’s played really well,” Rhule said of Reilly. “I think Granger’s played really well. I’ll go back and watch the film and see who looked better. Those guys are both neck and neck fighting it out… Juice has really made a strong push this past week.”
Granger said he does not know who will start against Notre Dame on Aug. 31.
“I’m just worried about having a good scrimmage,” Granger said. “I’m just leaving it up to the coaches’ hands.”
Rhule confirmed that senior guard Scott Roorda will miss the season due to a back injury that he has already had surgery on.
“We kinda knew going in that Scott was probably not going to be able to play,” Rhule said. “The biggest thing for me is that I feel really bad for Scott. He walked on here, became a starter in the Big East last year and really worked hard as a team guy.”
Roorda played in all 11 games last season, starting four.
Five more players have been given single digit numbers, signifying them as “tough guys” on the team.
Brown, senior wide receiver Ryan Alderman and junior wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick had already gotten their numbers, wearing Nos. 9, 4 and 5 respectively.
Senior defensive end Sean Daniels now wears No. 1, junior cornerback Anthony Robey earned No. 2, senior linebacker Blaze Caponegro got No. 6, sophomore wide receiver John Christopher snared No. 7 and Matakevich is adorned with No. 8.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Matakevich said. “All these older kids, like Levi Brown, would always, throughout the summer and beginning of the year, show us clips and how we need to be, just like the old defenses that Temple’s had. Jaiqwan Jarrett, Tahir Whitehead, Mo Wilkerson. All those guys, how hard they played, that’s how we need to play.”
The only single digit number left is No. 3, which will be voted on by the players later tonight.
Three of the wideouts have claimed single digit numbers, showing that they are respected by their teammates and coaches.
“I love them all,” Granger said. “They make plays for us. They always seem to come down with the ball, and that’s what you ask for with your receivers, to help bail out your quarterbacks at times.”
Granger singled out Christopher and Fitzpatrick, saying both will “be two terrific players in the future for Temple.”
Evan Cross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EvanCross.