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October 6, 2013

Future could be now for Walker

Things usually don't go as planned throughout the course of a college football season. Just ask first-year Temple head coach Matt Rhule about his quarterbacks and he'll tell you.

At the start of the season, Rhule had true freshman quarterback P.J. Walker, one of the gems of the Owls' 2013 recruiting class, penciled in as the third-stringer behind redshirt junior starter Connor Reilly and redshirt senior backup Clinton Granger and planned to let Walker use a redshirt for the season.

Now, six weeks into the season and five straight losses later, it looks like the future is now for Walker and the Owls' offense.

Walker came in to start the second quarter and finished with 10 completions, including his first collegiate touchdown pass, for 182 yards and threw an interception in Temple's 30-7 loss to No. 7 Louisville Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.

It seems as though Walker's performance and the way he led the offense has earned him the starting job.

"I would think, coming out on Sunday, [Walker] would probably run with the ones," Rhule said after the loss to Louisville. "I always try to watch the film. Connor didn't do anything wrong. I kind of made this decision. But I like the way [the offense] looked with PJ. I like the way we moved the football. He wasn't always right, but I thought he moved with his legs and his decisions looked good so I think he probably would be [the starter] moving forward."

Rhule said he told Walker, the Newark Star-Ledger's 2012 State Offensive Player of the Year following his senior season at Elizabeth High School, that he planned to play him for at least one series against Louisville. And even though a series turned into the rest of the game, Walker said he was ready.

"I went out there and played how I have been playing in practice all week," Walker said after the game. "I stayed ready. Once I was given the opportunity, I went out there and made the best of it.

"My performance today was decent, but it wasn't good enough. I could have played a lot better. I made a few mistakes and knew I should have been playing a lot better than I did."

Rhule was previously adamant about not burning Walker's redshirt this season, but that was before his team was down 13 points to Fordham three weeks ago. The hope was that Reilly could get a week of rest and that Granger would play well enough to get a win over an FCS opponent, but that's not how things turned out. Walker saw his first action against the Rams and completed one pass and was sacked twice before an injured Reilly stepped in for what turned out to be an unsuccessful comeback attempt.

Things went much better this time around for Walker and it's seems the experience both in that game and in practice have paid off for the freshman.

"I've learned a lot," Walker said. "In high school, it was much easier. But now, with, the change of pace, it has become a lot more difficult. I just stay in the film room and stay ready. Whenever I get my chance, I go out there and perform."

Walker didn't look like a freshman on his most impressive play of the day -- a perfectly-thrown, 58-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Robby Anderson where Walker placed just the right touch on the ball and right on Anderson's hands.

"I saw the safety sitting down on it and I knew Robby, with a bunch of speed, could go out there and just run right by him," Walker said. "I just put a pass somewhere where he could catch it and make a play."

If Walker is indeed the starter moving forward and Reilly becomes the backup, the two insist they are there to help each other out and do what is best for the team. Reilly, who went 3 of 7 passing for 25 yards Saturday before being lifted in favor of Walker, said he still does feel some lingering effects of a sprained right ACL and bone bruise in his knee that he suffered in last month's loss to Houston, but he didn't use it as an excuse.

"Hopefully, this week I should be at 100 percent where I can run," said Reilly, who has thrown for 771 yards and two touchdowns so far this season. "But right now, P.J. is the guy where he can move the ball with his feet. That is an added dimension, which makes defense harder because now they have to cover and now they have to take him as a runner instead of just a passer ... PJ was moving the ball and doing his job and getting the ball down the field. That is the job of the quarterback.

"Both of us had a short leash. Whoever could produce was going to be in the game and whoever couldn't was going to come out ... I was staying in the game, helping him out."

"He coaches me a lot," Walker said of Reilly. "He tells me what's going on what he sees in the defense and what coverage they're playing. He lets me know what routes are open. He and I bond and work very well together. We just plan things out as a team. He's not giving up."

As of now, Rhule plans on having just one starting signal-caller and has no plans at all to use a platoon of Walker and Reilly during upcoming games.

"Probably not," Rhule said. "I know well enough that at some point you're going to have to use two quarterbacks just based upon injury. With the way our offense is, the quarterback is going to have to run. With Connor Reilly being limited, it looked like P.J. was the one. I think we'll have one starting quarterback and move forward with him."

This week of practice heading into Friday night's contest at Cincinnati is obviously huge for both Walker and Reilly. Their respective performances will dictate the direction the coaching staff decides to go.
But with Walker seemingly having the upper hand coming out of the Louisville game, he'll have to prepare like a starting quarterback.

"My mind set won't change," the freshman said. "I've been preparing all year as I was a starter and that's the way my coaches want me to prepare. My mindset is to prepare every week as a starter."


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