Temple's offseason look-ahead, part 3: Offense

Temple's offseason look-ahead, part 3: Offense
December 5, 2013, 8:00 pm
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P.J. Walker threw for 2,084 yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. (USA Today Images)

Throughout the rest of the week, we'll be recapping Temple's 2013 season and looking forward to 2014. On Tuesday, we looked at recruiting (see story). On Wednesday, defense (see story). On Friday, we'll look at special teams.

Today: Offense.

Well, it wasn't like this unit was the problem.

Not after the starting quarterback and the best wide receiver moved from the scout team to the first team.

Temple, you may remember, began the season with junior Connor Reilly under center. It ended with P.J. Walker, who looks like he's got the job locked down for a long time.

Walker became the first freshman and only the third Owl in Temple history to throw for more than 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns, as the offense broke the program's all-time record for passing yards in a season with 2,996.

In all, the 2013 Owls gained 4,788 total yards, a number surpassed only by the 1979 team that won the Garden State Bowl.

"We averaged 400 yards per game," head coach Matt Rhule said in his year-end press conference on Monday. "It's actually like 399, which I've rounded up to 400. I'm not going to pull a Coach Golden on you.

"To set the single-season passing record -- obviously that doesn't replace wins, but I think it shows the direction we're going in, it shows the players we have and I think it sends a message to the kids we're recruiting."

Rhule has stated on multiple occasions that Walker isn't just the starting quarterback, he's also Temple's best recruiting strategy. He's confident kids will want to play with Walker.

And why wouldn't they? Once Walker took over as the full-time starter five games into the season, Temple averaged 31.4 points per game.

He ended up completing 152 of 250 passes (60.8 percent) for 2,084 yards and 20 touchdowns in about 7 1/2 games played. He also ran for 488 yards and picked up three more touchdowns on the ground.

Of course, it wasn't all perfect. Walker did throw eight interceptions, fumble twice and made some typical freshman mistakes.

Those mistakes were just balanced out by how explosive he was. Nine of his 20 TD passes were of 30 yards or more, and three of those long balls were to sophomore receiver Robby Anderson.

"We started off … We'd scrimmage with the scout team," Walker said, calling back to when he was supposed to redshirt and Anderson wasn't even playing. "It was a help for us. Because we ended up making a lot of connections throughout the [season]."

Anderson actually left Temple after spring practice, when he was playing cornerback, only to return before the season -- without a scholarship. He ended up coming back as a walk-on, and sitting out the first two games of the season.

Once he returned at wideout, the position at which he was originally recruited, he finished as the Owls' leading receiver, catching 44 balls for 791 yards and nine touchdowns. All nine TDs came over the last five games, all from Walker.

Anderson (6-foot-3) actually gave the Owls some height on the outside, which they sorely needed. And this year, unlike last, he'll have an offseason to work on his skills as a pass catcher.

"Robby can really take advantage of this time to develop his body and learn how to play wideout," Rhule said. "A lot of what he did was just on talent. [Wide receivers coach Terry Smith] did a great job of getting him in the middle of the season … and teaching him as he went. But now he'll learn all the nuances of how to run the routs, how to lean, all those things. Now you take talent and you can really coach it."

While Anderson and Walker got most of the attention, the Owls' stable of running backs mostly flew under the radar. Junior Kenny Harper finished second in the American, behind only UCF's Storm Johnson, with nine rushing touchdowns and almost no one noticed. A solid short-yardage option, eight of those nine scores came on runs on five yards or less.

He'll once again be joined in Temple's backfield next season by Zaire Williams and Jamie Gilmore -- both of whom appear to have real talent but seem to be lacking for opportunity -- and one other name.

Jabo Lee has been rehabbing an ACL injury at Temple all season. He originally committed to East Carolina, then signed with Tennessee, but had a falling out there and wound up at Temple. When healthy, the Owls expect him to be a dynamic runner, especially when paired with the dual-threat Walker.

How Rhule handles four talented running backs in a pass-heavy scheme remains to be seen.

"We're always trying find where guys can go next," Rhule said. "The thing about some of those running backs is that they're a little bit smaller guys, so it's harder to go play corner. But we've used those guys at slot before, we've done a little two-back stuff this year. … One thing we've tried to do this year is always get the best guys on the field."

However it shakes out, it'll all come back to Walker, who's poised to shatter every passing milestone in the Temple record book.

"P.J. can be as good as he wants to be," Rhule said.

And that's why Walker is already leaving his freshman year behind him.

"[The records] mean a lot, but now it's time to move onto next season and have a better season.

"My plans are to lose a few pounds and get into better shape. Just get much quicker and faster and try to learn the offense better.

"And protect the ball. We can't win games if I turn the ball over. That's the biggest thing."