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CINCINNATI – At 0-5 with little to lose, Temple's first-year head coach wanted to test his freshman quarterback.
P.J. Walker provided a glimpse of a bright future but the Owls couldn't sustain their first-half momentum and lost 38-20 to Cincinnati on Friday night.
Walker, playing his third game and making his first start, was 12 of 22 for 200 yards and two touchdowns and an interception for Temple (0-6, 0-3 American Athletic Conference). He ran for 48 yards on nine carries.
"We wanted to see how P.J. would react," Temple coach Matt Ruhle said. "The game wasn't too big for him. P.J. is going to be a heck of a player in this conference. He was a dynamic player for us. He made some freshman mistakes but he will continue to grow."
Temple hung with the Bearcats, shredding the nation's fourth-ranked defense in total yards for a season-high 20 first-half points and 271 yards, 16 more than the Owls' total in their 30-7 loss to No. 8 Louisville last week.
Walker replaced starter Connor Reilly, who is slowed by a lingering knee injury but was available to play.
"Defensively, we had no idea what they would be running offensively," Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. "They had a new quarterback and new formations and it looked like we didn't know what they were doing. We didn't stop much in the first half, but we made some adjustments. We made sure to get in the quarterbacks face and not let him get outside."
Walker was prepared with a week of practice and was ready for his debut on national television.
"I prepare every week like I'm a starter," Walker said. "I just played the game and let it come to me. I knew early in the week that I was going to start and I got a lot of reps with the ones but I didn't feel any different than I did when I came into the game last week."
Brendon Kay completed 31 of 37 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns to help Cincinnati to its first victory in the first-year AAC.
Kay ran for 18 yards and a score for the Bearcats (4-2, 1-1), coming off a turnover-plagued 26-20 loss at previously winless South Florida.
Anthony McClung had seven catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns, Shaq Washington caught 11 passes for 72 yards, and Tion Green ran for a career-high 91 yards and two TDs on 18 carries. Tony Miliano added a 44-yard field goal, the longest of his career.
Cincinnati's defense bounced back from a shaky first half to hold the Owls scoreless in the second half.
"We played well. We weren't able to sustain it," Ruhle said. "They didn't let P.J. get to the perimeter quite as much. We couldn't pick up a couple key third downs in the second half."
Cincinnati, hoping for a quick start after scoring six points in the first half against South Florida, scored on its first possession and added three more touchdowns to build a 28-20 halftime lead. Kay connected on all five of his passes for 32 yards on the opening drive, and added a 25-yard touchdown pass to McClung and a 4-yard scoring run. Green scored on runs of 24 and 2 yards.
Walker completed touchdown passes of 35 yards to Jalen Fitzpatrick and 30 to Clinton Granger, and Zaire Williams added a 1-yard scoring run as the Owls gained 20 more yards than the per-game average of 251 allowed by the Bearcats in their first five games.
"I wanted to come out the same way in the second half," Walker said. "We played fast in the first half. The second half we came out flat. U.C. blitzed a little more but we picked them up. We needed to make some third downs and that's on us."
Cincinnati had gone 10 quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown.
Kay added a 4-yard touchdown pass to McClung with 9:19 left in the third quarter.