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Owls will need big game from Phillip Walker to beat Penn State

The consensus on the Temple football team is that the 1-1 Owls aren't anywhere near where they need to be if they hope to approach the success they had last season.

The consensus on the Temple football team is that the 1-1 Owls aren't anywhere near where they need to be if they hope to approach the success they had last season.

One person in particular who believes he needs to step up is quarterback Phillip Walker.

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior has even more responsibility than a year ago, when strong senior leadership and production from the upperclassmen resulted in a 10-4 finish.

This year's team is still feeling its way, looking for leaders and big-play performers to emerge.

If the Owls have designs on upsetting Penn State on Saturday at Beaver Stadium, Walker will have to revert to his 2015 form, when he threw 19 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions.

In two games this season, he has three touchdown passes and four interceptions.

"The first thing is to cut down on the interceptions," Temple coach Matt Rhule said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. "[Walker] is not getting a lot of help from the guys on some of those interceptions, but we can't throw picks."

Walker may be needed to do even more since the status of senior running back Jahad Thomas is uncertain.

Thomas suffered a dislocated left thumb during the preseason and has yet to play. He was at practice Tuesday but departed toward the end to be attended to by a trainer. After making a reception, Thomas winced in pain, shaking his hand.

"I don't know what the deal is with Jahad; he left the field," said Rhule, whose news conference came right after practice.

If Thomas isn't available and sophomore Ryquell Armstead starts his third game, it will put more of the onus on Walker.

One thing Walker won't do is lose confidence. He understands he has to step things up, but he always seems to stay on an even keel.

"I am not happy," Walker said when asked his assessment of his first two games. "But I have 10 more games left and another opportunity this Saturday to play again."

As a sophomore, Walker had a rough time at Penn State, when Temple lost, 30-13, in the 10th game of the season. Walker completed 17 of 38 passes for 187 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. He also ran five times for 32 yards.

Last year, he was much more efficient in the Owls' 27-10 opening win over the Nittany Lions, the first Temple victory over Penn State since 1941. Walker completed 15 of 20 passes for 143 yards, with no interceptions or touchdown passes. He also rushed for 11 yards and a 1-yard TD on seven carries. Walker benefited from a strong ground game, with Thomas rushing for 135 yards and two touchdowns.

Walker is at his best when he doesn't try to do too much. He's been a strong performer as a four-year starter, but he acknowledges that his accuracy needs to improve.

Walker is a career 56.0 percent passer and this year he has completed 23 of 49 (46.9 percent).

"We have to protect better and make some catches, but he has to probably be more accurate," Rhule said. "He has had too many throwaway balls."

Rhule said that Walker has made some unbelievable throws as well; it's just he's looking for more consistency.

Walker is looking for the same.

He said he saw improvement from the season-opening 28-13 loss to Army to last week's 38-0 win over FCS opponent Stony Brook.

"I saw relaxation of the whole offense and the whole team," he said. "We weren't pressing to make a play. If it happened, it happened."

That kind of calm demeanor will be needed on Saturday if Temple has designs on beating Penn State in consecutive years for the first time since 1931 and 1932.