This week, Temple coach Geoff Collins disclosed that wide receiver Keith Kirkwood has been banged up the last two weeks, which could explain his recent drop in production.
But the fact is, the receiving corps as a whole has not lived up to its billing in the preseason, when Collins believed he had one of the top groups in the American Athletic Conference. Kirkwood and his teammates will look to turn the corner when Temple (2-3 overall, 0-2 AAC) visits East Carolina (1-4, 1-1) at noon Saturday.
Kirkwood has 13 receptions for 200 yards and two touchdowns. In the last two weeks, while playing at less than 100 percent with an unspecified injury, he had just one reception.
Kirkwood did have a 30-yard catch that was overturned in the 20-13 loss to visiting Houston on Saturday. The AAC, according to a source, told Temple that it should have been a reception.
“Referees sometimes make mistakes and you have to come back the next play and do the same thing every play and not worry about the past,” Kirkwood said.
Kirkwood confirmed that he has been banged up.
“I feel I am getting back to 100 percent,” Kirkwood said. “It’s just a small injury, nothing that is going to hold me back from playing on the field to help my guys get a victory this week.”
Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said Kirkwood’s injury has affected his play.
“He was playing at a very high level and the first three games was our best player,” Patenaude said. “He gives us a big body in the slot, and he is a guy who can go get the ball outside and has been really consistent.”
This year, the receivers have been too inconsistent.
Last week, sophomore Isaiah Wright had five receptions for 53 yards, and it appears he is getting more involved in the attack, whether as a receiver, running back, or even Wildcat quarterback.
A key, according to Patenaude, is getting last year’s leading receiver, Ventell Bryant, back to form. Bryant, who missed one game because of injury, has 13 receptions for 101 yards and no touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound redshirt junior had 54 receptions for 895 yards and four touchdowns last year.
“We’ve got to get Ventell wired up,” Patenaude said. “We have got to be creative, not just let him play within the context of the offense but try to feature him and find ways of getting him the ball downfield.”
The up-and-down play of both quarterback Logan Marchi and the offensive line hasn’t helped the receivers, but Patenaude mentioned that in last week’s loss the Owls had five drops. And dropped passes have hurt the unit.
Besides Wright, Kirkwood, and Bryant, senior Adonis Jennings is another threat who has yet to break out. Jennings has 14 receptions for 220 yards and a score.
Kirkwood said the receivers have to perform better in the red zone. Temple has scored six touchdowns in 13 red-zone opportunities this year (46 percent). Owls opponents have scored touchdowns in 14 of 26 red-zone chances (54 percent).
Kirkwood thinks the receivers and the team in general showed positive signs in last week’s loss. Temple trailed by 20-0 after Houston scored on the first possession of the third quarter, but after that, the Owls dominated play.
“I think things are starting to click,” Kirkwood said. “You definitely saw that in the second half with our offense and defense collectively.”