After hurting his knee against Houston on Sept. 7, redshirt-junior quarterback Connor Reilly decided that he was too hurt to start against Fordham.
“I practiced Wednesday, came back Thursday morning and it hurt,” Reilly said. “So I told Coach [Matt Rhule] I couldn’t go.”
“This week, I was the emergency quarterback, so I was going to come in if need be, but wanted to stay out and rest a little bit,” Reilly added. “It happened that I had to come in and we moved the ball, which was good for our offense to move it. We brought a little life and energy to the sidelines. Give credit to Fordham, they played to the very end until the clock hit zero, and they beat us outright.”
The Owls (0-3, 0-1 American Athletic Conference) fell to the Rams (3-0, 0-0 Patriot League) 30-29 in a game where Temple played three quarterbacks: Reilly, senior Clinton “Juice” Granger and freshman P.J. Walker. Granger started the game and was ineffective, throwing 15 times for six completions and 58 yards to go with two turnovers.
“At the end of the day, not to take anything away from them, but we couldn’t get anything going offensively with the quarterback position early, so we put [Walker] in there,” Rhule said. “And then [Reilly] just said, ‘Coach, I’ll go in. I’m good.’ At that point, I could tell with the way the game was going, if we didn’t do something, we weren’t going to move the football. Once we put [Reilly] in there, it changed … I expect us to win a lot of games with him moving forward.”
After Temple went into the half down 13-7, Walker opened the second half. He played for two drives, got sacked twice and completed one pass. Because Walker took a snap, he is now ineligible to be redshirted for this season.
“I made the decision I was going to put [Granger] in, and if it didn’t go the way we wanted it to go I’d play [Walker],” Rhule said. “I have a lot of confidence in [Walker]. [Granger] kind of banged his shoulder up, [wasn’t] letting it on. We had a couple of sprint hitches wide open that were hitting the ground. I just felt like we’re probably going to need [Walker] this year at some point, so we went with [him]. He did some good things, although we weren’t moving the football.”
Despite his injury, Reilly came in with 6:14 to go in the third quarter and immediately made an impact. The first three drives that Reilly played in all resulted in touchdowns, and the fourth was the final possession of the game, which only lasted one play. Reilly had seven completions on eight throws for 69 yards, which included a touchdown pass to senior halfback Chris Coyer.
“The offense responded to myself going in in the third quarter,” Reilly said. “We moved the ball, three straight times we scored a touchdown. That was positive. Other than that, I have nothing [positive].”
“It’s tough to say, but there was definitely an energy boost when [Reilly] got back in there,” Coyer said. “We started executing a lot better. We knew that we were starting to get to a point in the game where it was kind of make-or-break time of the game. [Reilly] helped give us a little bit of a boost.”
Temple gained a total of 385 offensive yards, and 202 of them came during the four drives Reilly played in. Reilly’s passing only accounts for 34 percent of the yardage gained when he was playing quarterback.
That means the running game, which accounted for 245 yards in the game, got the majority of its yardage – 133 yards when Reilly was under center. In that timeframe, freshman Zaire Williams ran for 48 of his 82 yards and junior Kenny Harper rushed for 40 of his 105 yards.
“Our running backs played tremendously,” Reilly said. “Harper and Williams did a great job. Us spreading the field, putting four wideouts out there, having five kids in the box, it’s catch-and-go. Hand it off, watch them run.”
“[Williams] is one of these young playmakers I’m talking about,” Rhule said. “I think you can all see the impact that he’s going to play in the program moving forward. You can build around [him], because he’s competitive. Even though he’s a freshman, he has the ability to make plays.”
“Harper’s a winner,” Rhule added. “He plays on two special teams. He’s our starting tailback, picks up all the protections. He does a really nice job for us… Him and [Willians] are going to be a good tandem.”
The Owls are heading into their first bye week before traveling to take on the University of Idaho on Saturday, Sept. 28.
“I think this bye week is something that we need in order to work on all these little things that we’re just not doing quite right and not executing in the game,” Coyer said.
“After today, I’m going to be full go next week,” Reilly said. “I’m not going to sit out, I’m going to stay at No. 1 and push the offense to the brink.”
Evan Cross can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @EvanCross.