And so it wouldn’t be a Temple football season if there wasn’t a quarterback controversy.
The Owls fell to 0-5 overall and 0-2 in the American on Saturday with a 30-7 loss to No. 7 Louisville in which they trailed 24-0 at the half.
True freshman quarterback P.J. Walker relieved starter Connor Reilly in the second quarter and stayed under center with coach Matt Rhule giving every indication Walker would be the starter Friday at Cincinnati.
Reilly started four of the first five games, the lone exception being the third game against Fordham where he was nursing a knee injury and came on to rally the Owls after Juice Granger and Walker both struggled.
Reilly, a redshirt junior who has shown flashes of brilliance but also inconsistency in his first season in the lineup, was 3-for-7 for 25 yards before Walker came on. The freshman finished the game 10-of-19 for 182 yards with a touchdown and interception in the end zone, while also leading the team with 33 rushing yards despite taking four sacks.
Walker didn’t lead a scoring drive until the final minute when he hit Jalen Fitzpatrick for a 9-yard touchdown after the Owls took over following a blocked punt. The Owls did have a short field goal blocked in the first half and Walker lost a fumble after being sacked on fourth down in Louisville territory in the third quarter.
“I made the decision last Sunday. I told (Walker) I was probably going to play him for a series,” said Rhule. “As we got out there, Connor did a nice job but with their pass rush I wanted somebody who could move around. I put P.J. in there for a series and I liked the way it looked.
“On the second series, he took us all the way down with his arms and legs and we missed a field goal. It was in that moment I decided to let him go.”
Asked if Walker would start Friday, Rhule said he was leaning in that direction.
“That would be my thought heading into (Sunday),” said Rhule. “I always try to watch film, and Connor didn’t do anything wrong. I kind of just made the decision. I liked the way it looked with P.J. and I liked the way we moved the football. It wasn’t always right, but I thought he moved well with his legs. I think he will be (the starter) moving forward.”
Walker said he would be ready if he is given the nod against Cincinnati, just like he was ready to come in against Louisville.
“My mindset won’t change, I’ve been preparing all year as if I’m the starter,” said Walker. “I went out there and played how I had been practicing all week. I stayed ready and once I was given the opportunity, I went out and made the best of it.
“My performance was decent, but it wasn’t good enough. I could have played a lot better. I made a few mistakes and know I could have played better than I did.”
Reilly, who is still hampered a bit by the knee injury, understood the move to Walker.
“Hopefully this week I’ll be back to 100 percent, but right now P.J. is the guy who can move the ball with his feet,” he said. “That is an added dimension that makes it harder to defense. Both of us had a short leash. Whoever could produce was going to be in the game. P.J. was moving the ball and getting the ball down the field.”
While the Owls have questions at quarterback, there were certainly none on the other sideline. Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater finished 25-of-35 for 348 yards and two touchdowns.
“I am not happy at all,” said Owls’ sophomore linebacker Tyler Matakevich. “The whole week we stressed not giving up big plays and we all gave up big plays. In the second half, they were trying to score the entire time and we won the second half, 7-6, so that eats you away inside knowing we just gave them the first half of the game.”
Temple’s right tackle Dion Dawkins broke his foot and is likely out for the year. It was another blow for the Owls, but Rhule saw positives as they try to salvage something from this season.
“At the end of the day, the first half obviously wasn’t what we wanted,” said Rhule. “I knew Louisville was going to leave Teddy in and throw the football. They weren’t going to fold up, and until the very last drive they were throwing the football. We knew we were going to get their best in the second half and our kids came out (ahead) 7-6.
“Louisville is a team we’re going to be some day. I wanted it to be now, but it’s not. It’s where we’re headed. The last three or four drives we had 10 freshmen and sophomores on defense. That’s not an excuse, but it is a positive. I was pleased with our team. To go back out in the second half 7-6 was what we wanted.”
Another quarterback controversy wasn’t what the Owls wanted, but it appears they have one.