Chris Franklin takes a look at the Temple Owls offense and its performance in the team’s annual Cherry and White Game.
(Photograph courtesy of Joseph Labolito/Temple University)
It is hard to believe that the season opener is a little more than four months away. The city of Philadelphia endured a harsh winter, one that was filled with snow and bitter cold. There is one event on the Temple calendar that signals that warmer weather is on the way and the season is getting closer. The Temple Cherry and White Game was held on Saturday at the Edberg-Olson Football Complex. Under the watchful eyes of many Temple fans, alumni, and families, the Owls gave a preview into the 2015 season. Although the offense defeated the defense 43-23, it was about watching the improvement of key players for the upcoming season and what Owls could have a significant impact on the program in the future.
“I am ecstatic about the spring,” stated Temple head coach Matt Rhule. “I do not know how good we are, but I know they are trying to good as they can be. That is the mark of a good program. Everything that I’ve wanted in this offseason and spring, we’ve gotten and that is a credit to the players.”
The offense demonstrated that it has the potential to move the ball down the field. Both Jahad Thomas and Zaire Williams, two players in a talented, crowded backfield saw some action in the game. Williams had a good spring, bouncing back from an injury-plagued campaign in 2014. Running back Roy Wesley, a redshirt junior, also opened some eyes with his running ability.
As for the receivers, spring standout Samuel Benjamin has improved to the point where he can be another weapon for the offense. Kip Patton showed some promise after scoring a touchdown on a 35-yard catch and run. Patton, along with fellow tight end Colin Thompson, have the ability to create mismatches between the hash marks. This could free up even more space for the wide receivers.
However, just like any offense, the key to its success is the play of the quarterback. With the amount of talent the team has at the skill positions, P.J. Walker will be one of the factors in improving an offense that finished eighth in the conference in total offense.
Walker on Saturday completed seven passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’ve gotten better every day to be honest. I did not take any steps back,” said Walker. “Last year I feel I took some steps back. This year I feel as I progressed each day and got better. I worked on everything I did wrong the day before. The thing we discussed this year was to not take steps back. We did a pretty good job, and the next thing I have to do is start working on my leadership more. Just having the guys trust me more and more.”
Another thing that Walker and his offensive teammates have focused on is third down efficiency. Last year, the Owls only converted 23 percent of their third down opportunities. Walker is taking responsibility for improving that aspect of the game. “We focus on third down a lot. We do not want to be the last team in our conference on third downs because it is an embarrassment. It comes down on the quarterback. It means me being smart and me going out there making the right decisions. That is what I have to do.”
Some of Walker’s teammates are noticing his improvement.
“I think it improved a lot,” replied Williams when asked about Walker’s performance this spring. “P.J. works harder than anybody else that I’ve seen at quarterback. He is in the weight room working out extra. He is upstairs in the film room every day.”
The Owls have the pieces to be one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference. The defense is expected to be formidable. If Walker and the offense play up to its potential, Temple will be in a bowl game for the first time since 2011.