When The Temple News published its 2022 Football Preview, writers Rymir Vaughn and Sean McMenamin argued that redshirt-junior North Dakota State University transfer Quincy Patterson and redshirt-sophomore D’Wan Mathis would be the two players battling for Temple’s starting quarterback job by the end of the season. After two weeks, true freshman E.J. Warner has entered that competition.
After losing his third fumble of the season, Mathis was benched by head coach Stan Drayton in favor of E.J. Warner. The true freshman was listed as the fourth quarterback on the first depth chart of the year, a depth chart that Drayton described as “fluid.”
Drayton said in Saturday’s press conference Warner jumped Patterson, a North Dakota State University transfer, and redshirt-sophomore Mariano Valenti on the depth chart in practice over the week to become Temple’s backup quarterback, leading to him playing his first collegiate game and guiding Temple to a 30-14 victory over Lafayette College.
Warner did not look out of place or afraid while playing against Lafayette. On his first drive, Temple’s most productive of the afternoon, Warner led the Owls 83 yards down the field for a 15-yard touchdown to redshirt-freshman transfer wide receiver Ian Stewart for the first touchdown of both players’ careers.
“He came up there with a lot of confidence,” graduate left tackle Isaac Moore said of Warner. “He did not look like a true freshman to me.”
Without the fumbles, Mathis was already having a lackluster performance. After passing for 83 yards under a 50 percent completion rate in a 30-0 loss to Duke University, Mathis threw for 42 yards on just more than 44 percent against Lafayette before being pulled from the game.
Temple’s passing offense was stagnant yet again with Mathis under center as the Owls tied their FCS opponent 7-7 while the second-year starter was in the game. Mathis’ 29-yard pass to graduate wide receiver Jose Barbon set up a three-yard touchdown run by redshirt-sophomore transfer running back Darvon Hubbard for Temple’s first points of the season.
However, Temple’s next drives under Mathis ended in his two lost fumbles, a failed fourth-down conversion, and a three-and-out forced by a sack. After that, Warner was subbed in to start Temple’s sixth drive of the game.
“There’s nothing in a winning formula that says you gotta turn the ball over four times,” Drayton said. “Two balls on the ground was something that probably forced me to that decision.”
As a first-year coach of a rebuilding program, Drayton and his staff have zero ties to the recruits of previous regimes. It arguably behooves him to give snaps to the younger players that he will be coaching and grooming to play his style of football.
“If you’re going to come into the program, you’ve gotta compete,” Drayton said during his Aug. 29 media availability. “Regardless of how old or how much experience you have, if you’re the best player here at Temple, we’re going to play the best players.”
Finishing with 173 yards and two touchdowns on 73.6 percent passing, Warner, the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, clearly delivered the best performance by a Temple quarterback so far this season. It is worth noting that Lafayette, an FCS program, isn’t a FBS Power 5 program like Duke. However, Warner’s intangibles were still visible on the field.
The freshman went through his progressions and delivered his passes with accuracy while also displaying courage at his six foot, 190-pound frame by standing in the pocket and absorbing hits from defenders.
“He didn’t flinch,” Drayton said. “He went out there and put the ball where it needed to be put. Took some hits, responded to those hits. Very excited about what he’s capable of doing moving forward.”
Although Warner played well, he’ll still have to perform at a high level in this week’s practices. Drayton did not name Warner the starter for the homecoming game against Rutgers University, much like he didn’t name Mathis the starter against Lafayette when asked to during the team’s media availability on Sept. 5.
“You may be a starter for three quarters of a football game but every day you have to earn that,” Drayton said.
If Warner impresses during Temple’s homecoming game against Rutgers, he could grab a firm hold of the position and possibly push Mathis to consider re-entering the transfer portal like he did on Nov. 18 of last year.