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Temple spring game: Potent, experienced run game a glimpse of Geoff Collins' plans?

Let's be honest with ourselves -- it's early into the Geoff Collins era at Temple. Very early.
 
And Saturday's annual Cherry and White spring game was a big scoop of vanilla on a wet, dreary April Saturday afternoon, just over four months until the start of training camp and just over five months until the Sept. 2 season opener at Notre Dame.
 
But while Saturday was just the scantest of glimmers into what Collins and offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude have in store for the new-fangled Temple offense, it was still hard to deny what may have been a glimpse of the backbone of the Owls' offensive plans -- a power running game led by two experienced upperclassmen in Ryquell Armstead and Jager Gardner.
 
Both junior backs left their marks Saturday in White's 17-14 win over Cherry in a game that was straight-up offense (Cherry) vs. defense (White).
 
"We established the run today," Collins, who spent time as defensive coordinator at both Florida and Mississippi State before coming to Temple, said after the annual exhibition.
 
"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. … But Rock (Armstead) and Jags (Gardner), those are guys who create their own holes.
 
"I thought Jager had a great day today. He looked like a PlayStation 4 character out there, juking and hurdling people. He was phenomenal."
 
The speedy Gardner, a 6-foot-2, 214-pound slasher, was the star Saturday with nine carries for 67 yards and a touchdown. On one of those carries, he completely hurdled a helpless linebacker in the middle of the field en route to a 23-yard gain. Gardner also made a tough back-shoulder grab down the sideline on a long pass play.
 
Armstead, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound lead horse of the Owls' running back core, didn't see as many touches and had just 10 yards on four carries. But considering the sloppy conditions and the Owls' need to keep him healthy, it's easy to see why he was limited.
 
But both in recent years have proven they can achieve success on the field, even with the success of Jahad Thomas, who racked up 2,599 yards and 38 touchdowns on the ground over the last two seasons before graduating.

Armstead rushed for 919 yards and a team-high 14 scores last season. As the third back last year, Gardner ran for just 111 yards and two scores. But he does hold the school record with a 94-yard TD scamper at SMU in 2015 and coaches will tell you all about the electric style he can bring. Now he has an opportunity to show it.
 
And the Owls will undoubtedly lean on both Armstead and Gardner even more this season offensively as they break in a new starting quarterback. Four-year starter Phillip Walker, who re-wrote the program record books with 10,669 passing yards and 74 TD passes, has also graduated.
 
Does that add more pressure onto the shoulders of Armstead and Gardner?
 
"I enjoy being an upperclassman and know I have to be a leader in the room," Armstead said. "I know the offense like the back of my hand. I've got to make sure my guys are up to par with the offense.
 
"I still believe we have to balance. We have to run the ball when we have to and we have to pass the ball when we have to. So just being balanced, going fast when we have to and slowing it down when we need to will help any quarterback that's in."
 
"I don't feel any added pressure," Gardner said. "I've been here since my freshman year. I didn't redshirt. So I feel that me and [Armstead] work off each other. We just build off each other. We're going to take it one day at a time and get better, each of us. So there's not going to be anything new for us.
 
"It's not going to get any harder or any easier. We're just going to change a little bit of the things up. Just have to get used to some stuff we haven't done before. It won't get any harder. We just have to focus on the stuff we have to do now."
 
As for that tricky quarterback situation …
 
Many pundits have pegged redshirt freshman Anthony Russo as the leader in the clubhouse. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Russo, an Archbishop Wood grad who originally committed to Rutgers before decomitting and then receiving heavy interest from Les Miles and LSU before inking with Temple in 2015, has all the physical tools of a pro-style quarterback.
 
He took the opening snap Saturday, and was efficient, albeit not spectacular, going 7 for 11 for 70 yards. Again, the ugly, rainy conditions likely played a hand there. His prettiest completion of the day came on the back-shoulder throw down the sideline to Gardner.
 
The QB who stuck out the most Saturday was true freshman Todd Centeio. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, native went 9 of 13 for 110 yards and lovely fade to the corner of the end zone to wideout Marshall Ellick for an 18-yard score. He hit Ellick for 43 yards down the sideline earlier in the day. More than that, his calmness was on display with smart checkdowns and scrambles.
 
After the game. Collins was predictably tight-lipped about the QB battle.
 
"That's a great question and I knew I was going to get that," Collins said when asked who would start at QB if the Notre Dame game were Sunday.
 
"They were all out there competing today. I think Todd Centeio did a good job out there. Russo was putting some nice balls out there, too. … There are plenty of reps to go around.
 
"It was clean, the optics were good today and we got to see the guys really spin it out there."
 
Collins has a few more months to see the quarterbacks spin it some more before the most important decision his infantile collegiate head coaching career is due.