Temple's Walker stayed course until crazy ending

090616_phillip-walker_1200
Temple quarterback Phillip Walker.

The chaos was part of a final play that may go down as the one that saved Temple's season. It's a lock to go down as the craziest play at the perfect time of this season.

No huddle, no time, four receivers.

"The O-line, I don't think they got the right call," said Temple quarterback Phillip Walker, remembering how close he was to being tackled. "They were just all confused. Some run-block, some pass-block."

And it was both natural and crucial, Walker explained, to see Keith Kirkwood in the end zone on a little fade play.

"He was the only one who actually ran the route," Walker said, explaining more of the chaos. "Everyone else - Ventell [Bryant] was all woozy from the last play." Walker said the other receivers had helped get Bryant up and then get set.

There's an unspoken part of the play, a quarterback who had been having a tough Saturday night in Orlando, then took the Owls 70 yards in four plays, the last with one second left, deciding a 26-25 season-lifter over Central Florida.

Temple now has won a game it looked as if it would lose after opening the season by losing one many expected the Owls to win, against Army. Next they play South Florida on Friday at the Linc, a chance to win one the oddsmakers say they're supposed to lose. More than that, a win over USF would suddenly elevate the Owls to first place in the American Athletic Conference East, with a favorable road ahead.

Maybe they can't get to the highest ground, but they still control their path to the AAC title game.

The ups and downs have mirrored Walker's season, which is the way it happens. Earlier this month, Owls coach Matt Rhule was talking about his quarterback, how "he's won more games than anybody. I don't care if he throws a pick. I don't care. I want him to be aggressive."

Rhule brought up the season he spent as a Giants assistant.

"Eli Manning threw four picks in the first half - you know what he did in the second half?" Rhule said. "Went out and threw for 350 yards. All P.J. does is try to find ways to win games."

Here's a more Temple-appropriate comparison for those who go back a bit. Temple basketball player Rasheed Brokenborough sometimes had tough shooting nights for the late-'90s Owls, yet there was nobody better with the ball in his hands and a big game on the line. Just as mentally tough as they come.

Rhule wasn't around then, but he sees Walker the same way.

"His shoulder's separated, he puts it back in and keeps playing," Rhule said of a Walker injury earlier in his career.

Still sweating and breathing heavily after post-practice sprints, Walker said of any criticism, "You live with it. You go out and play every game. I don't pay attention to the noise outside of this gate. I've got thick skin as well."

Of managing ups and downs during this 4-3 season, Temple offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas said, "Reset is the term we use a lot. What is my job the next play?"

Walker is a pretty even-keeled personality anyway, Thomas said, which helps particularly at the quarterback position.

When he's struggling a little, what's the cause of that?

"Well, usually as in most quarterbacks, you're just trying to do too much," Thomas said. "There might be a sense where you think you can fit a ball in there and those might be risky throws and don't turn out good. With that being said, good quarterbacks will make those risky throws and make it happen. It's kind of that fine line. You've got to pick and choose. When can I fit it in there and when do I need to get off there and go to the next step in the progression?"

The last play, Thomas said, "at the end of the day, he picked the right guy, right? He saw the one-on-one matchup, in press coverage, he had the ideal look. And he obviously made the throw that gave Kirkwood the chance to make a great play."

Let's not pretend Walker hasn't put up numbers. He's Temple's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns throws, tops in career wins by a starting quarterback.

"He's the man in the arena, the man with the ball in his hands," Rhule said Tuesday, aware that Walker has 10 interceptions to go with his 10 touchdown throws. "That's why I can defend him on a lot of things. He's got three tipped-ball interceptions, three interceptions on last drives when he's having to make a play. At the end of the day, none of that really matters. I know who P.J. Walker is."

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

Continue Reading