Walker's deep passing key to Owls' offense

MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Owls quarterback P.J. Walker (11) says the team is eager to build on the momentum of beating Army.
MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Owls quarterback P.J. Walker (11) says the team is eager to build on the momentum of beating Army.
Posted: October 27, 2013

Through two starts, freshman quarterback P.J. Walker doesn't have many regrets.

But there are some.

"I had a deep ball in the Cincinnati game that I wish I could have gotten back," Walker said. "As a quarterback, you always regret some of the passes you miss."

Walker prefers to look ahead to the games to be played, though, and on Saturday his focus will be on attacking the secondary of Southern Methodist (2-4, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) as Temple (1-6, 0-3) attempts to win its first road game of the season.

Since replacing Connor Reilly as the Owls' starting quarterback earlier this month during a 30-7 loss to Louisville, Walker has demonstrated an ability to throw the ball deep, a crucial element in the offense as Temple continues to develop the vertical game coach Matt Rhule wants.

Walker exhibited his arm strength against the Cardinals when he connected with receiver Robby Anderson on a 58-yard pass. Against Cincinnati, Walker, who throws the ball well moving out of the pocket, found receivers Jalen Fitzpatrick and Clinton Granger for touchdown passes of 35 and 30 yards, respectively.

In the Owls' 33-14 win over Army last week, Walker found Fitzpatrick and John Christopher on touchdown passes for 37 and 39 yards, respectively, helping the Owls to a comfortable 26-0 lead by halftime.

However, it was Walker's 47-yard bomb to Fitzpatrick that set up a 1-yard TD by Kenny Harper in the first quarter to illustrate best what Rhule hopes to see more of as the quarterback refines his game.

"It was a really well-executed play-action that set that one up," Rhule said. "P.J. has the ability to expand the pocket. He's only going to get better at that as time goes on."

Saturday's game (3 p.m.) at Gerald J. Ford Stadium could provide Walker and the passing game similar opportunities. While Southern Methodist gets much of its attention due to a lethal passing game that is ranked eighth in the country and averages 354.5 yards a game, the Mustang defense is allowing 276 yards passing per game.

By comparison, Temple's shaky pass defense gives up 284.4 yards per game.

The Mustangs also surrender a conference-high 40.8 points per game. They are coming off a mistake-plagued 34-29 victory over Memphis that saw the Tigers score the game's final 26 points.

"It's really amazing that we got out of there with a win when you consider that we had a punt blocked and two fumbles returned for a touchdown on the road and still win the game," SMU coach June Jones said. "Temple is getting better, they've got a new quarterback and they have been playing with momentum. So we have to do everything we can do to make sure that we don't beat ourselves this week."


Temple at Southern Methodist

When: Saturday at 3 p.m.

Where: Gerald J. Ford Stadium, University Park, Texas.

Records: Temple (1-6, 0-3 American Athletic Conference); Southern Methodist (2-4, 1-1).

Radio: WPHT 1210-AM.

Coaches: Temple, Matt Rhule (1st year, 1-6); SMU, June Jones (6th season, 33-38; overall, 109-79).

Series: SMU and Temple have twice played to a draw. Last time, 1946, at Temple Stadium, 7-7.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

Wide receivers Jalen Fitzpatrick and Robby Anderson, arguably the Owls' two best deep threats, are being used in conjunction more frequently to stretch the field. This could open up the underneath passing game for the Owls against Southern Methodist's porous pass defense.

Temple's defense is going to have to slow down the Mustangs' passing game. Southern Methodist QB Garrett Gilbert leads the AAC in passing yards per game (349.3). However, his 34.67 pass attempts per game (second in the nation) also give opponents the chance to intercept the ball, something the Owls, with one pick this season, focused on in practice.

Temple's front four is going to be responsible for both putting pressure on Gilbert and stopping the Mustangs' rushing game, which averages just 94.7 yards per game. Look for the Owls to deploy five and six defensive backs.

THREE THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW

A victory would give Temple back-to-back wins for the first time since weeks four and five of last season. The Owls scored successive wins over South Florida and Connecticut, respectively, on Oct. 6 and Oct. 13 last year.

The Owls have gotten off to decent starts in their last two games, scoring 20 and 26 points in the first halves of games against Cincinnati and Army. On the season they are averaging just 18.6 points per game.

Temple receiver John Christopher earned a single-digit (7) tough-guy jersey at the end of training camp. Christopher, who caught his first career touchdown last week vs. Army, is playing with a stress fracture in his foot. - John N. Mitchell


jmitchell@philly.com

@JmitchInquirer

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