When Khalif Herbin muffed a kickoff around Temple’s goal line in the second half against Connecticut last Saturday, Jalen Fitzpatrick exercised his vocals on the Owls’ sideline.
The Huskies were nearly gifted six points coming off the break when they recovered the ball on the redshirt sophomore’s botched kick return, but the play was called back for a Huskies offside.
“I didn’t even know,” Fitzpatrick said of the wiped-out play. “When I thought they got a touchdown and I told the offense, ‘We got it. We’re going to go down and score next time we get the ball. That’s it. That’s all we have to do.’ Luckily it wasn’t a touchdown, but if it was, we would’ve done the same thing that we did.”
“We went down and scored,” he added.
Though Temple held a 7-3 lead heading into the break, the Owls mustered 31 total yards of offense in the first half. Sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker had completed six passes for 23 yards, while a Temple rushing attack yielded eight yards on 10 attempts.
“We just made minor adjustments [at the half],” Fitzpatrick said. “[Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield] made some minor adjustments. It wasn’t just me, as an offense we all played better, to be honest.”
After Temple caught a break on the called-back UConn touchdown, its sputtering offensive unit took the field. Two minutes, 32 seconds into the second half, Fitzpatrick was able to create some space downfield, haul in a 42-yard touchdown pass from Walker and fulfill his word.
As the Owls’ passing offense started stretching the field in the second half, Fitzpatrick collected passes of 21 and 22 yards, respectively. He finished the Owls’ 36-10 romp of the Huskies with 108 yards receiving on six receptions, all in the second half, and his fourth touchdown grab in as many games.
“He’s a key player for us,” junior running back Jamie Gilmore said. “That’s what he does. He makes big plays. As soon as he made big plays he was bringing the rest of the team with him, and everybody started to make plays.”
Fitzpatrick logged more than 100 yards receiving for the second time in his Temple career, as he caught four passes for 128 yards in the Owls’ 33-14 win against Army last season. He has scored in each of Temple’s games, and has accounted for 288 of the team’s 857 passing yards, nearly 34 percent.
The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania native was the team’s leading receiver in each of Temple’s three wins, with his least productive contest coming in Temple’s 30-point season-opening win at Vanderbilt, in which he caught five passes for 46 yards.
As the team’s third-most productive receiver a year ago behind departed wideouts Ryan Alderman (graduated) and Robby Anderson (dismissed), he caught 38 passes for 423 yards and three touchdown receptions.
“We’ve always been beyond it since he left the team. We don’t really talk about it,” Fitzpatrick said of Anderson’s departure for academic reasons in February.
Fitzpatrick was thrust into the role of Temple’s No. 1 receiver prior to training camp, and he’s largely improved on the field since, coach Matt Rhule said.
I think Jalen has just come out and he’s just flown around,” Rhule said. “He’s got [Acromioclavicular joint pain] every game. He gets hurt and he keeps coming back. No player on our team has improved from spring ball to now as much as Jalen has, and he’s done that through hard work and tremendous effort.”
While he appreciated Rhule’s postgame compliment, Fitzpatrick didn’t make much of it.
“I don’t look at it too much to be honest,” he said. “I’m just trying to get better. I’m not where I want to be yet. … Me individually, and as an offense and the entire team, we still have as much room as we want to [in order] to improve.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @Andrew_Parent23