Arizona football opens playbook but needs to improve passing
The season is still young, but Arizona’s inability to open up the passing game has left head coach Rich Rodriguez and quarterback B.J. Denker frustrated, despite the 2-0 start.
“We got to get better at the passing game. We made a couple good reads and the routs were there, we just overthrew a couple and missed a couple,” Rodriguez said after the Wildcats’ 58-13 victory at UNLV Saturday. “We got to get that right.”
Even though his team had just run away with a road win, the significance of improving the passing game was clear to see in Rodriguez’s stone-faced expression.
After two games Denker is 17-34 for 168 yards and one touchdown pass that came on Arizona’s first drive of the season. The 168 yards place Denker in last place of the Pac-12 conference quarterbacks and 119th in the country.
Ryan Revock / The Daily Wildcat UA quarterback B.J. Denker runs the ball into the endzone against UNLV.
Denker’s legs have been more effective than his arm. The senior quarterback has 134 rushing yards on only 30 attempts and has scored three touchdowns via the run.
However, Denker knows that in the future the Wildcats won’t be able to escape with a victory because his inability to throw the ball will render his running ability useless.
“We know what they’re going to do, defenses are going to test me,” Denker said about their upcoming oppositions. “So I got to rise to the challenge. If not then we’re going to struggle a little bit. That’s pressure on me and I can take it.”
Following their first game of the season in which Arizona defeated NAU 35-0, Rodriguez admitted to limiting Denker by not opening up the playbook as much as he should have. In addition, the game was fast-paced, allowing the offense to run only 47 plays.
But that wasn’t the case against the Rebels. The Wildcats hit Rodriguez’s magic number of 90 plays on offense, giving Denker plenty of chances. Unlike the game against NAU, the second-year Arizona head coach said that he had no regrets with the number of opportunities he gave Denker to showcase his arm.
Following their 45 point victory on the road Rodriguez was hard on Denker, but not as hard as Denker was on himself. When interviewed, Denker immediately pointed out what he needed to improve on.
“I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of a boat,” Denker said. “[Rodriguez] let me take some shots down field, I just didn’t execute.”
Rodriguez doesn’t hold back when it comes to being critical of his players, but two weeks into the season, Rodriguez has had nothing but positive things to say about Denker and backup quarterback Javelle Allen’s work ethic and practice performance.
So after struggling in week two to open up the passing game and help give Arizona’s offense more depth, Denker could be on thin ice if he slips up in practice this week.
Allen, who has seen little playing time in both of the Wildcats’ games thus far, has yet to throw a single pass, making it difficult to determine if he could bring more variety to the offense.
But Denker has shown since being named the starter that he understands the pressure and thrives on it, so as it builds Denker expects himself to work harder.
“I’m disappointed in myself,” Denker said after the UNLV game. “I just need to give guys a chance to catch the ball. It’s on me.”
At Monday’s press conference, sophomore receiver Johnny Jackson said the receivers need to catch the ball better and that Denker has done an “excellent job.”
Opponents are expected to cheat against the run without much of a passing threat for the Wildcats.
“With our rushing attack doing so well, teams are gonna start catching on and loading up the box, so pretty soon when we start to really bring out our playbook you’ll see more passes,” Jackson said.
— Follow Luke Della @LukeDellaDW