Can Walker finally end Temple's QB carousel?

Can Walker finally end Temple's QB carousel?
October 10, 2013, 12:45 pm
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When he takes the field Friday, P.J. Walker will be Temple's sixth starting QB dating back to the start of the 2011 season. (USA Today Images)

When P.J. Walker takes the field against Cincinnati Friday night, he'll be Temple's sixth starting quarterback dating back to the start of the 2011 season -- also known as the dawn of the Steve Addazio era.

Whatever you want to call it, it's a span of 30 games.

Counting Friday night, Walker, Connor Reilly, Clinton Granger, Chris Coyer, Chester Stewart and Mike Gerardi will have all started over that stretch. None of the previous five lasted longer than Coyer, who made it 13 consecutive starts from Nov. 9, 2011 to Nov. 10, 2012. He's a tight end now.

In fact, quite a lot has changed since Coyer was entrenched as the starter this time last year. Through five games in 2012, Temple was 3-2, Coyer was a quarterback, Granger was a quarterback, Addazio was the coach, Reilly was off the depth chart and on a baseball field, and Walker was in high school. Some conference called the Big East was still playing football, too.

"To be honest with you, you bringing that up is the first time I've ever really thought of that," Coyer said at practice Tuesday. "Right now, the focus is so much on [how] we need to get that first win.

"That's the focus for all of us here in the building. It's hard to even think about what was going on last year."

Temple, as Coyer just alluded to, has yet to win its first game under head coach Matt Rhule. It's played in three close games and lost to Idaho and Fordham by only three combined points. It just hasn't been able to win one.

Although at this point, at 0-5, in what's clearly a transitional year for a first-year coach and the program's third in four years, the record doesn't really matter. It's about finding the future -- especially at quarterback.

Temple finished last year with the fifth-least productive passing attack in the country, ahead of four schools that ran the triple-option. Coyer and Granger combined to complete only 52 percent of their passes for 120.8 yards per game. Granger is once again occupying the same position as Coyer, as he too was moved to tight end last week.

Of course, the quarterback didn't much matter under the run-heavy Addazio, who had some combination of Bernard Pierce, Matt Brown and Montel Harris in his backfield for two years. Even Stewart once managed to go 9 for 9 vs. Maryland in 2011, almost exclusively throwing play-action rollouts while Pierce ran for five touchdowns.

Stewart, by the way, was the last Temple freshman to start a game at quarterback. Walker on Friday will be the first true freshman to do it since Vaughn Charlton in 2006 -- Al Golden's first year as head coach.

It's early, but the hope is that Temple has found a potential a four-year starter under center -- a marked departure from the carousel that's followed the exit of Adam DiMichele, who's now a graduate assistant on Rhule's coaching staff.

"Last Saturday [against No. 7 Louisville] … Coach Rhule said in the huddle, 'You're not a freshman no more. So go out there and play like you're an upperclassman, like you're a lion.' And that's what I did," Walker said.

He relieved Reilly in the second quarter and never exited, finishing the game 10 for 19 for 182 yards passing, a touchdown, a pick and 67 yards rushing. Immediately after the game, Rhule conceded that Walker would take first-team snaps in practice on Sunday and by Monday was ready to name him the starter. 

The freshman's rise to the top of the depth chart is at least partially related to Reilly's ailing right knee. When the junior couldn't practice during Temple's bye week, Walker took every snap with the first and second teams. With his redshirt burned, Walker is going to play out the rest of the year in some capacity, whether as the permanent starter or in some kind back and forth with Reilly.

Freshmen are bound to make mistakes, so is Rhule going to give Walker a little bit of leeway, perhaps enough to let him learn on the job without having to worry about being replaced?

"There's two kinds of mistakes a quarterback can make," Rhule said. "There's mistakes where, 'I don't do what I'm supposed to do and I kind of do my own thing because I think I'm going to make a play.' We're trying to eliminate that from the program. And that's a pretty pervasive thing we've got going on.

"And then there's, 'I try to fit it in and a guy makes a great play and steps in front of it.' That's football. As long as P.J. goes out there and trusts his training, and does what he's been coached to do, and does what he does in practice, he's going to play."

That can be tough for a guy like Reilly, who spent last year fourth on the depth chart and as a two-sport athlete. He quit baseball this past offseason to focus on football, and became the starting quarterback in spring practice.

If he hadn't gotten hurt against Houston, it's likely he's still the starter, and Walker still has his redshirt. But that's not how it worked out.

"I made a point to the team, number one, to show everybody how he handled everything Saturday," Rhule said, referring to Reilly. "Because he was coaching P.J. probably harder than anybody else. He was in it, he was in the huddles, he's just such a Temple guy, and such a great teammate. So I made a point to show all of our players that, because I think they all need to learn that.

"And then secondly, I said to the same thing [to Reilly] that I said to everyone else: 'Wait your turn, because your turn will come again.' There's no doubt in my mind that you're going to have to play two quarterbacks in college football. With as banged up as we are on the offensive line, the quarterback is going to get hit sometimes.

"When P.J. goes down, Connor just has to be ready to come in and play at a high level."

In short, Reilly's handling this just about as well as anyone could be expected to. The redshirt junior has this year and next remaining. He, like his coach, is confident he's going to be back on the field sooner or later, but even he recognizes the role Walker could play for the Owls' program moving forward.

"Absolutely, it's frustrating," Reilly said. "But I've learned from the adversity of not having a chance to play.

"Now -- not having it taken away -- but [being] replaced by somebody, I can learn from my mistakes and watch P.J. grow and help him develop, because he's going to be the future of Temple football."

The future is now come Friday night.