October 5, 2013

Cards deal Owls a 30-7 loss

Holding a 30-point lead over Temple Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, Louisville kept its starters in the game for much of the second half.

And that could be a good thing for the Owls moving forward.

In what would eventually become a 30-7 loss to the No. 7 team in the country, one that dropped Temple to its first 0-5 start since 2007, the Owls, who are also 0-2 in the American Athletic Conference, needed something - anything positive, really - to build on, and it came from the player who could be their key building block of the future.

After replacing Connor Reilly on the team's third offensive series, freshman quarterback P.J. Walker stayed in the game and later found himself in a position to put some points on the board, which he did on a 9-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick with 38 seconds left to play. It came after a blocked punt and after Walker hit wideout Ryan Alderman on a 17-yard throw.

Walker's late touchdown pass, of course, did not overshadow the brilliant day turned in by Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who looked every bit like the projected No. 1 overall pick in April's NFL Draft in completing 25 of his 35 passes for 348 yards and two touchdowns. It did not compensate for a struggling offensive line that got handled at the line of scrimmage and allowed Walker to be sacked four times.

And it did not win the game.

But if there are going to be more bumps and bruises along the way before a rebuilding program starts turning evidence of progress into wins, Temple needed a jolt of energy to cling to, and Walker provided it.

A 6-foot-1, 200-pound product of northern New Jersey's Elizabeth High School, Walker played two unproductive series three weeks ago in the team's deflating, last-second loss to Fordham - a game that was supposed to provide one of the probable wins on the schedule. Saturday, Walker went 10 of 19 passing for 182 yards and that late touchdown pass. He also connected with wide receiver Robby Anderson on a 58-yard throw in the first half and popped off a 22-yard run as well.

There were mistakes, too, like the throw Walker forced when Temple was at the Louisville 31, one that got picked off in the end zone by Cardinals' cornerback Terrell Floyd.

But on an afternoon that can only serve as further proof that Temple first-year head coach Matt Rhule is willing to stare down the future by giving his freshmen and underclassmen a shot, Walker took a big step forward.

"There's something special there, I believe," Rhule said of Walker.

In an ideal situation, Temple would have followed up some promising moments in its season-opening loss at Notre Dame with wins over Houston, Fordham and Idaho, and Walker would have a full season to redshirt and learn from Reilly, a junior who has also shown some promise at times as a first-time starter.

But that's not how things have turned out at all.

Instead, Reilly has been plagued by a right knee injury and inconsistency, and Walker, who admitted he wasn't sure if he would play or redshirt heading into the season, seems intent on keeping the job.

"I didn't really envision myself playing, but I felt like I would get a chance one day," Walker said. "I didn't know if it was going to be toward the end of the season or the beginning of the season, but I knew that whenever I got my opportunity I was just going to make the best of it."

And for the most part, he did that Saturday.

"The touchdown drive was just us as a team being ready to score," Walker said. "We had our opportunities. They failed but we never gave up. We just kept playing and kept fighting hard."

When asked if Walker would be the team's starting moving forward, Rhule said, "I would say probably coming out on Sunday (for practice), he would go with the 'ones.'"

No one gave Temple much of a chance to upset Louisville Saturday, as the 33-point line would indicate, and there were not too many surprises.

Bridgewater was as good as advertised. He methodically picked apart a struggling Temple secondary and completed 15 of his 17 passes - to 10 different receivers - for 228 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone. His 1-yard, play-action scoring toss to Gerald Christian got Louisville on the board with 9:23 left in the first half, and his 15-yard touchdown pass to Eli Rogers went right through a zone look and helped lift the Cardinals to a 24-0 lead just before halftime.

That sizable cushion kept Louisville in good shape during a second half in which it was only able to muster a pair of John Wallace field goals of 20 and 25 yards. And while Walker's play offers some signs of hope, Temple is undoubtedly a young, struggling team with plenty to work on.

The offensive line, which lost freshman right tackle Dion Dawkins to what Rhule believes is a season-ending injury (a broken bone in his foot), got continually pushed off the line and was a big reason why Temple could only muster 48 net rushing yards. Walker carried the ball 12 times for 67 yards but lost 34 on the four sacks, and running backs Zaire Williams and Kenny Harper combined for just 35 yards on 14 carries. Williams had minus-1 yard on five carries.

And the defense, until further notice, can't get off the field on third down and can't seem to get away from surrendering big plays. Although Temple eventually got a pair of sacks from Averee Robinson and Matt Ioannidis, Bridgewater and the Louisville offense converted on 7 of 12 third-down situations, and Temple gave up pass plays of 38 (to DeVante Parker), 36 (to Ryan Hubbell), 31 (to Rogers) and 24 (to Damian Copeland) yards.

"I'm not happy at all, especially with myself," said sophomore linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who led Temple with seven solo tackles. "The whole week we were stressing ourselves out about not giving up big plays and we all gave up big plays, including me."

Holding Louisville to two second-half field goals didn't do much to comfort Matakevich.

"If you look at that," he said, "it eats you away inside knowing that we just gave them that first half of the game."

So that's where Temple is right now - caught between looking at some signs of encouraging play from freshmen like Walker and facing the reality that they are still an 0-5 football team with just five days to prepare for Friday's game at Cincinnati.

"The first half was not what we wanted both offensively and defensively and we did have some chances," Rhule said. "But the second half showed our team what they're going to be some day. I wanted it to be now, but it's not. It's where we're headed."

OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com or @jdicarlo.

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