Receiver hopes to resuscitate Temple's passing game

Owls coach Matt Rhule talks with Jalen Fitzpatrick. The wide receiver has been struggling this season, tallying only 17 receptions and one touchdown.
Owls coach Matt Rhule talks with Jalen Fitzpatrick. The wide receiver has been struggling this season, tallying only 17 receptions and one touchdown. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 11, 2013

Temple held high hopes for its new passing attack entering coach Matt Rhule's first season, but the Owls offense simply hasn't gotten off the ground.

Junior Connor Reilly won the starting quarterback job, and the hope was that he would ignite the Owls in their pro-style, no-huddle offense.

Crucial to this success would be the play of junior receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick, an explosive athlete who led Temple last season in receptions (30), receiving yards (363), and yards per catch (12.1).

But the passing game has yet to click this season for the 0-5 Owls, producing just 204.8 yards a game. Only one-win teams Memphis (193.2) and South Florida (144.6) are worse in the American Athletic Conference.

Temple is scoring just 15.8 points per game, last in the conference and 117th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Twenty-five AAC receivers have posted 100-yard games - led by five from SMU's Jeremy Johnson - but not one has been logged by a Temple wideout.

Consistency has been a problem. Freshman P.J. Walker will be Temple's third starting quarterback this season when Temple visits Cincinnati (3-2, 0-1 AAC) at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

"It's going to be a challenge for us because [the receivers] really have to start making plays to help our quarterback out, no matter who it is," Fitzpatrick said.

Walker will become the fifth starting quarterback in the last two seasons for the Owls. That sounds like a lot, but college programs, especially struggling ones, often go through these kinds of growing pains until they get it right.

Fitzpatrick has had some growing pains of his own this season. He dropped four passes in the Owls' season-opening loss to Notre Dame. He finally caught his first touchdown pass of the season in Saturday's 30-7 loss to Louisville.

"That was a case of me catching the ball and trying to make plays before I had control of the ball," Fitzpatrick said. "That was frustrating when it happened. But we are not discouraged because everyone believes, even with the changes we've made at quarterback, that we're going to start making a contribution."

Fitzpatrick has caught 17 passes for 139 yards this season, second on the team to Ryan Alderman (19 catches, 282 yards.) Three Owls have caught TD passes: Fitzpatrick, Alderman, and tight end Chris Coyer.

As frustrating as the winless start has been, Fitzpatrick sounded confident Wednesday that the receivers will begin making plays over the remaining seven games. He said that the onus is on him and the other receivers to deliver while Walker makes the adjustment to the college game.

"It should not be difficult for us because, during the game, the corners stay the same," Fitzpatrick said. "I'd say that it's a little more difficult for the quarterbacks because they haven't really gotten comfortable yet with all the changes.

"This is a change for P.J. because now he's the starter going from high school to college. But he'll make the adjustment and we're going to do everything we can to make it easier for him."


jmitchell@philly.com

@JmitchInquirer

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