The Cincinnati Bearcats emerged victorious over the Temple Owls 38-20 on Friday night, rebounding nicely after losing last week in an upset by South Florida.
Had Cincinnati lost to Temple, its chance at winning the AAC Title would have sunk. If the Bearcats continue winning, Cincinnati could find itself in a winner-take-all showdown with Louisville in the season finale.
Temple remains winless, and judging by its remaining slate of games, the Owls could finish the season winless. Temple's weakest opponents are Memphis, Army and fellow winless team Connecticut. It's just as conceivable that Temple could defeat all three teams.
Here are five things learned from Friday night.
Cincinnati has endured more adversity this season than teams should, let alone college students loaded down with classwork.
Led by quarterback Brendon Kay, the Cincinnati offense helped get the Bearcats back on track after freshman offensive lineman Ben Flick's tragic death in a car accident on September 21st. Wide receiver Mark Barr remained hospitalized from the same accident.
Kay, who completed 31 of 37 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns, provides a standard that his fellow team members look to. He is the heart and soul of the team.
The quarterback suffered two knee injuries in two consecutive years, prompting NCAA's allowance of a sixth-year of eligibility.
To add insult to injury, Munchie Legaux was Cincinnati's starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, despite Kay consistently outperforming Legaux in game-time, until he went down with a knee injury of his own.
In the next couple years, people should think of Cincinnati as an example of resiliency, especially if the Bearcats go on to play in a BCS bowl game. The game against Temple should only be the beginning.
First-year head coach Tommy Tuberville has his team off to a good start despite all the adversity. Right now, Cincinnati sits with a 4-2 record (1-1 AAC) and is just two games shy from qualifying for a bowl game.
Tuberville needed the win over Temple to give his team a positive thing to think about.
"With what we've been through this past month, we needed something positive," Tuberville said. "We were struggling mentally. I've never been through anything like this. It looked like we were running in mud last week. We went to four wide receivers, and it gave us some high-octane rhythm."
He also had his own off-the-field drama to deal with along with that of his team, but he seems to have prioritized the interests of his players.
If Tuberville can continue to place himself in a position of leadership and guidance, he may find himself embraced more warmly by Cincinnati than he ever was by Texas Tech.
By the end of the first quarter, Temple held a 13-7 lead and was trailing by just one point as both teams entered halftime.
Cincinnati's defense bounced back from a shaky first half to hold Temple scoreless in the second half and protect the lead. The defense allowed Cincinnati a massive advantage in time of possession by forcing Temple's offense off the field as soon as possible.
Temple controlled the ball just 23 minutes and converted just four of 11 third-down opportunities.
"Defensively, we had no idea what they would be running offensively," 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 quarterback's face and not let him get outside."
Cincinnati's defense should keep it competitive for the last six games if the offense falters. But when both offense and defense work perfectly, expect Cincinnati to steamroll its opponents.
Freshman quarterback P.J. Walker led an effort that sliced through the nation's fourth-ranked defense in total yards. Temple registered 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, before finishing with 376 yards on the night.
Walker, playing his third game and making his first start, was 12 of 22 for 200 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 48 yards on nine carries.
"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 (starters), but I didn't feel any different than I did when I came into the game last week."
First-year head coach Matt Ruhle predicted a bright future for Walker, who should continue starting for the remainder of the season.
"We wanted to see how P.J. would react," 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."
With Walker at the helm, Temple should start returning to previous form and win more games.
Although a victory against a winless team isn't something to brag about, considering Cincinnati's situation, Friday's win is a good thing. Temple will be hard-pressed to even win a game, but a 1-11 season seems the most likely.
With a stout defense and an offense that should start playing to its potential now, Cincinnati could steamroll through its next three opponents.
Cincinnati's true test starts November 16th at Rutgers before traveling to Houston the next week. If the Bearcats beat both teams as expected, they then take on Louisville in the biggest game of the AAC's inaugural season.