Sports

Walker’s heroics another chapter in historic career

Quarterback Phillip Walker led a touchdown drive with 32 seconds left in Temple’s 26-25 win against Central Florida in Orlando.

With five regular-season games left in his Temple career, it’s still hard to tell how Phillip Walker will be remembered as an Owl.

Statistically, the senior is the best quarterback Temple has ever had. He’s quarterbacked the Owls to more wins —  24 to be exact —than any other signal caller. He owns almost every major school passing record, including career yards passing (8,955) and career passing touchdowns (62).

Walker’s also frustrated Temple fans with 41 career interceptions, third most in school history. His passing efficiency has ranked closer to the bottom than the top of Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks throughout his career.

The fourth-year quarterback will make some plays that will make you scratch your head, like when he escaped pressure and tossed the ball into double coverage instead of throwing it away on Saturday night. But then he’ll make a few defenders miss, roll right and fire a bullet on the run down the field for a first down.

There might not be a better microcosm of Walker’s career than Saturday night’s 26-25 win against Central Florida.

Before the game’s final drive, the senior quarterback had completed just eight passes and hadn’t yet reached 100 yards passing. Then he pulled out some magic.

Starting at his own 30-yard line, Walker needed to move Temple 70 yards in 32 seconds without any timeouts. To begin the drive, he hit redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Ventell Bryant on three straight throws, moving the Owls down to the Knights’ 8-yard line.

He hustled the team down the field and rather than spiking the ball, capped off the drive with a beautiful touch pass to redshirt-junior wide receiver Keith Kirkwood for the game-winning score.

Walker’s performance this year has been about as up-and-down as Saturday night’s game. He’s completed more than 60 percent of his passes twice and also completed less than 50 percent of his passes three times.

He has thrown 10 interceptions, two more than last year’s total, with five games left in the season. Still, Temple is sitting at 4-3 and at second-place in its division, with a good shot at going to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.

Last year, while the defense got most of the credit, Walker played through a dislocated shoulder and helped lead the team to 10 wins. Temple would not have been 7-0 and ESPN College GameDay likely would not have come to Philadelphia if Walker hadn’t led a field goal drive with less than two minutes left against the University of Massachusetts three games into the season.

Throughout this season, some Twitter fans have called for freshman quarterback Anthony Russo, who was recruited by top football schools like Penn State and Louisiana State University, to be brought into the game.

With a suspect offensive line and wide receiving group that has struggled with drops at times this season, who knows how Russo would potentially hold up in this offense. Walker, who has been able to use his athleticism to escape pressure on several occasions, has been sacked 18 times.

Over the past four seasons, only Western Michigan redshirt-senior quarterback Zach Terrell and Central Michigan redshirt-senior quarterback Cooper Rush have started more games than Walker.

Walker came out of high school ranked as a two-star prospect by Rivals.com. Ninety-seven quarterbacks were ranked higher than him. A few like Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Jared Goff of the University of California, Berkeley, are already in the NFL. Many others have barely seen action in a college football game.

Temple fans should appreciate the last five games of Walker’s career. It might have been a bumpy ride, but right now, he might be the best quarterback the program has ever had.

Owen McCue can be reached at owen.mccue@temple.edu.

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