Arizona was able to come from behind Saturday to knock off Utah 35-24 to get its first Pac-12 win of the season. While running back Ka’Deem Carey will get most of the attention, senior quarterback B.J. Denker quietly put together a second straight impressive performance for the Wildcats.
Two weeks ago, Denker had four touchdown passes in a loss to USC, and then followed it up with three scores and 219 total yards against the Utes. Head coach Rich Rodriguez said he’s seen his quarterback’s confidence grow in these last two games and is happy with his progress.
“He’s trusting the footwork, the timing, and the play itself,” Rodriguez said. “There are still a few times where he’s hesitating but I hope he’s getting more confident. B.J. can throw the ball, and we’ve got wide receivers that can get open.”
One of those wideouts, sophomore David Richards, agreed with Rodriguez about Denker’s confidence and also took away some of the blame from his quarterback’s earlier struggles.
“I think a lot of people believe it’s always B.J.’s fault when things go wrong but sometimes it is on us to make sure we are running the right routes well to make sure he can get us the ball,” Richards said.
Denker, a junior college transfer in his second season with the Wildcats, did well in the team’s first three games against lesser competition but hit a wall against Washington, completing only 40 percent of his passes and throwing two interceptions in a 31-13 loss. He’s responded well, and Rodriguez praised his decision making of late in particular.
“B.J. may have to make a decision on 80 plays and he may have made the right decision on 75 of them, but most people don’t even know it,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a lot on him as far as decision making goes. B.J. has handled that pretty well. He’s the sharpest guy we’ve got in that room.”
One aspect of Denker’s game that’s been consistent throughout most of the year has been his ability to extend plays and get big chunks of yards using his legs. Rodriguez likes that dimension from his quarterback, but acknowledged there’s still room to improve.
“He’s fast enough to get out of trouble and he’s pretty good in the open field,” Rodriguez said. “There were a couple times where I thought he could have got another yard or two for a first down. We want our quarterbacks to preserve themselves and not take unnecessary shots but it’s always touchdown, first down, get down in that order.”
Denker’s next test comes on the road against Colorado, who he faced in his only start of the 2012 season. Denker completed 12-of-14 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns while adding 44 yards and a score on the ground in Arizona’s 56-31 win.