Freshman QB shows promise in Owls' latest loss
From what we've seen of the Temple Owls this season, allowing 28 points in the first half sounds like a death sentence.
After all, before Friday's game at Cincinnati, the winless Owls had trailed at halftime in all but one of their previous five games. In those games, Temple had averaged a paltry 5.8 points in the first half. Their opponents, meanwhile, outscored them, 81-29.
However, the 28 points American Athletic Conference opponent Cincinnati put up in the first half of their Friday meeting were the most they have yielded.
Despite that, the Owls trotted off the field and into the locker room at Nippert Stadium with a gait that belied a team desperately searching for its first win of the season.
The difference was that the Owls had managed 20 points of their own against the nation's No. 4-ranked defense. The game, at the break, was anybody's.
Facing an opponent that had gone the previous 10 quarters without surrendering an offensive touchdown, Temple freshman quarterback P.J. Walker, making his first start, threw TD passes of 35 and 30 yards to receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick and quarterback-turned-tight-end Clinton Granger, respectively. In the five previous games the Owls had just three passing touchdowns.
It would not be enough to prevent the Owls from falling to 0-6 (0-3 in the AAC). Cincinnati's defense shut out the Owls and Walker in the second half on the way to a 38-20 victory, improving to 4-2, 1-1.
The Owls have put a positive spin on every game this season, even troubling losses to FCS squad Fordham and lowly Idaho, winnable games they lost by a combined three points.
But Friday's game was much more about how Walker, by most accounts the jewel of the Owls' 2012 recruiting class, fared in his debut.
For a kid making his first start on national TV, Walker didn't do badly, completing 12 of 22 passes for 220 yards and an interception to go along with the two passing TDs.
Walker kept his head up, almost always looking down the field. And when he had to use his legs he did, finishing the game with 47 yards on nine carries. That included a 31-yard scamper.
"He is going to be able to make plays," Temple coach Matt Rhule said Saturday. "They were the fourth-ranked defense in the country coming into that game. If that's where he's starting at right now, just imagine where he and some of the other young guys will be as we move along. As tough as it is on the field right now, young guys like [running back] Zaire Williams and [receiver] Robby Anderson will continue to get better as we move along.
"This kid is going to be a special player," Rhule continued. "If he makes a mistake he rebounds from it and brushes it off. He handles the pressure well and there is no doubt that he will continue to grow. The future looks bright with that kid because you know the best is yet to come."
Although the Bearcats frustrated Walker in the second half, the last comments Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville made to Rhule after the game were about Walker.
"He said, 'Stick with him because he's going to be something special,' " Rhule recalled. "And that is what we intend to do."