The Owls started their third different quarterback of the season last Friday night at Cincinnati, as freshman P.J. Walker took the field at Nippert Stadium.
Third time turned out not to be the charm against the Bearcats, however, as Temple lost its sixth game of the year 38-20 and remains winless during the 2013 season. Still, Walker was able to provide a spark for the offense, particularly during the first two quarters.
The Owls had a season high seven plays for 20 or more yards, including a 35-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick. During the first half, Walker went 6 for 11 and passed for 133 yards. At the end of the first quarter, Temple held a 13-7 lead – the only one they would hold all game.
“We knew it was going to be a good football game,” coach Matt Rhule said. “We knew we had a chance to be in the game. I wanted to see how P.J. would react to his first start and we were really pleased with him. We felt like the moment wasn’t too big for him and just wanted to try to extend it to the fourth quarter.”
Walker was only recently promoted to the starting quarterback role, but he says there wasn’t a huge difference leading up to last Friday night’s game and jumping in from the sidelines the week prior against Louisville.
“I prepare every week like I am the starter because that is how it should be,” Walker said. “I just came out and I believed. I was relaxed, I was poised and I just played the game and let the game come to me.”
Although Walker started strong, Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said the Bearcats’ defense was facing the added challenge of going against an unknown quarterback.
“Defensively, we didn’t have a clue what they were going to run on offense,” Tuberville said. “They started a new quarterback – all new formations, all new running and passing game. It looked like we didn’t know what they were going to run in the first half and we didn’t slow them down much.”
By the second half, Cincinnati adjusted. While Walker and the offense were able to keep up with Brendon Kay and the Bearcats early in the game, Temple failed to score after halftime. The third quarter, in particular, was a turning point as Walker threw for nine yards. Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay went a perfect 13 for 13 and threw for 114 yards during that same 15 minute span.
“We should have come out a lot faster in the second half like we did in the first half,” Walker said. “We slowed it down in the second half and I should have been out there picking it up a lot faster.”
The Bearcats had a game-plan on defense coming out of halftime.
“We tried to blitz the quarterback more and play more man defense to get up on these guys instead of playing zone,” senior safety Arryn Chenault said. “When we played zone, the quarterback had too much time. We played more man and blitzed the quarterback and frustrated him.”
Temple’s longest drive occurred with just minutes left and lasted 3:11 but didn’t even result in the Owls crossing midfield. Cincinnati’s longest drive lasted 5:35 and ended with a touchdown. Walker finished the game 12 for 22 with 200 passing yards. He also threw two touchdowns, one interception and was sacked three times,
“They didn’t let P.J. get to the perimeter quite as much which is a little bit more his game,” Rhule said. “Even on that long drive, I think the future of P.J. looks really bright. He was as fast as anybody on the field. He is going to be a heck of a player in this conference.”
Walker and the Owls return to Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday at 1 p.m. for the Homecoming game against Army. Last year’s matchup in West Point, N.Y. resulted in the Owls blowing out the Black Knights 63-32.
Avery Maehrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.