The Dude Abides

It was late July on the boardwalk in Wildwood and Matt Rhule had yet to oversee his first game as Temple's head football coach. As he stepped away from his team signing autographs for passers-by for a few minutes, I asked him if ideally he would like to red-shirt true freshman quarterback P.J. Walker. Rhule agreed it would be the best-case scenario. "Unless," noted Rhule. "He's the dude."

It was late July on the boardwalk in Wildwood and Matt Rhule had yet to oversee his first game as Temple's head football coach.

As he stepped away from his team signing autographs for passers-by for a few minutes, I asked him if ideally he would like to red-shirt true freshman quarterback P.J. Walker.

With redshirt junior Connor Reilly and redshirt senior Juice Granger in the mix for the starting job, Rhule agreed it would be the best-case scenario.

"Unless," noted Rhule. "He's the dude."

Well, 10 weeks into a 1-9 season that hasn't gone the way anybody figured it back on a sunny Saturday down the shore there have been several positives for the Owls.

And there is one positive that far outweighs the others.

P.J. Walker is, in fact, the dude.

The freshman from Elizabeth High School and New Jersey High School Player of the Year just a season ago has taken the American Athletic Conference by storm lately.

What he hasn't done is led the Owls to many victories, but that has hardly been his fault. If the defense could have made just one more fourth-quarter stop the last two weeks against Rutgers and No. 15 Central Florida or held SMU to under 50 points, Walker would have a few more Ws under his belt.

Even Rhule admitted on this week's American Athletic Conference coach's call that Walker has exceeded expectations after being inserted as the starter for the Week 6 game at Cincinnati.

Despite starting just five games and playing extended minutes in just one other contest, Walker has completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,476 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has also run for 241 yards and two scores.

What he has also done is almost certainly brought an end to the quarterback carousel that started when Adam DiMichele – now a graduate assistant for the Owls – finished up his eligibility in 2008.

The Owls have not had the same quarterback start the opener of consecutive seasons since DiMichele. They also haven't had the same starting quarterback finish two straight seasons since DiMichele.

Temple has changed quarterbacks in-season seven times in the last five years, the last being Walker replacing Connor Reilly at the helm midway through this season.

While it appeared at times the Owls had their answer – Chris Coyer looked like the long-term solution when he was MVP of the 2011 New Mexico Bowl – it seems like they are set at the most important position on the field for the next three years.

Walker's performance against the nationally-ranked Knights in a 39-36 loss last Saturday erased any doubts about his ability to lead this team going forward. His 382 yards were the third-highest total in school history and as much as the numbers were impressive, it was more noteworthy how he accomplished them.

The 75-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson – who as a sophomore should be Walker's top target the next two years – showed off Walker's arm strength and touch. He rolled left, slowed to set his feet and floated a pass 50 yards downfield just over the defender.

With the Owls trailing in the fourth quarter, Walker led a drive which ended when he ran to the right, saw nothing, came back to the left and found tight end Chris Parthemore alone in the end zone for a go-ahead 7-yard score. The play exhibited Walker's athleticism and calm under pressure.

Walker is a program-changer. He is a player Rhule and his assistant coaches can entice recruits to come play with for the next three years and build around the way they did running back Bernard Pierce from 2009-2011.

And if you listen to Rhule and Walker's teammates, the quarterback has the type of work ethic that should rub off on the rest of the squad as he grows into the leadership role.

It's been a season that could hardly be more frustrating for the Owls, but it's easy to pick out the positives.

None has been bigger than finding their solution at quarterback.

They found the dude.

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