Colorado victory not huge for Arizona Wildcats
Before everyone starts thinking Rose Bowl, let’s put Arizona’s win Saturday night into perspective.
A 44-20 victory over Colorado (3-4, 0-4 Pac-12) is nothing to start yelling about. The Buffs are arguably the worst team in the entire Pac-12 Conference. And when the Wildcats (5-2, 2-2) made it clear that winning the Pac-12 South was a legitimate team goal, scoring 44 points on the No. 112 nationally-ranked CU defense should be expected.
“It was big,” said running back Ka’Deem Carey in a press release following Saturday’s game. “Our stride is to get in that Pac-12 championship game.”
Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker put up big stats against the Buffs, but so has every contending conference quarterback that has played Colorado. The senior, who is only in his second year of head coach Rich Rodriguez’s system, has shown massive improvement this season, especially since the second half of the USC game. But against CU, it’s hard to tell how he stacks up against some of the elite quarterbacks in the conference.
Denker threw for 265 yards and one touchdown and ran for another 192 against the Buffaloes. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is a serious Heisman candidate and is leading his Ducks to a possible Rose Bowl appearance, tore Colorado apart with 355 yards passing and five touchdowns with 43 rushing yards.
Here’s the big difference: Mariota has done it against the cream of the Pac-12. Against Washington, the Ducks sophomore threw for 366 yards and three touchdowns. Against the Huskies on Sept. 28, Denker threw for 119 and two interceptions and looked very uncomfortable.
The way Denker and the rest of the team played in September shouldn’t be how they play for the rest of the season.
Denker and his deep receiving corps have become more comfortable as the season has progressed. Still, his ability to execute on some throws has been questionable, even against the Buffs.
Rodriguez has said all year that this year’s team is not good enough to play bad and win. It doesn’t have the talent or depth at multiple positions to make up for mistakes.
“We have some good players, but we’re not going to line up and play poorly and beat anybody,” Rodriguez said in a press release after Saturday’s win. “Any win is a good win for us, trust me on that.”
It wasn’t a factor Saturday because the Buffs are in an even worse situation — as they have neither the talent and depth nor the experience to make up for errors.
A 24-point victory over Colorado should, however, boost the confidence for many of the young Wildcats. Freshman receivers Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips have established themselves as Denkers’ top choices. But their best days are still a long ways away.
If Arizona wants to win now, it is going to need veteran receivers Terrence Miller and Garic Wharton to become more of a factor in games against tougher opponents.
The Wildcats’ defense still needs to get better if they want the goal of reaching the Pac-12 championship game to become a reality.
Arizona’s defense gives up an average of 369.2 yards per game, a huge improvement from last season, when it was ranked last in the conference.
But 369.2 doesn’t win titles. And while the fast-paced Wildcats offense will wear down opposing defenses as it did against USC on Oct. 10, its defense has to hold teams off early, as it didn’t do against USC. Through seven games, Arizona’s offense has always been decent in the first half but then exploded in the second.
So while Saturday’s win brings Arizona one step closer to its ultimate goal, it is an unattainable one — because no matter how good Carey is, Arizona can’t ride him to the Rose Bowl.
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella