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Passing grade: B.J. Denker efficient, effective in first start at Arizona

B.J. Denker

Arizona’s B.J. Denker connected on 12 of 14 throws in the win over Colorado. Photo by Rick Scuteri-US PRESSWIRE

Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker, who goes by the nickname Vanilla Vick, looked a lot like his namesake on the Wildcats’ first snap of the game Saturday.

That is to say, he fumbled.

Cue a chorus of groans from UA fans, anxious to see how the offense would perform without starting quarterback Matt Scott, out because of a concussion.

Even Denker said he thought, ‘Uh-oh, here we go.’”

But from that failed first handoff — which resulted in Colorado scoring one play after getting the ball at the UA 7 — Denker was a model of efficiency in his first college start.

The junior college transfer completed 12 of 14 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, ran nine times for 44 yards and, unlike turnover-prone Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles, didn’t lose the ball again in a 56-31 victory at Arizona Stadium.

One more thing: Denker made a bunch of right reads in the run game, helping sophomore Ka’Deem Carey gallop for a Pac-12 record 366 rushing yards.

“I had the best seat in the house, getting to watch him,” Denker said. “I had a great time handing the ball off and watching him work.”

Denker did some work, too, going against a porous Colorado defense that entered the game allowing nearly 500 yards per game. That’s one of the caveats about his first start: It was only Colorado.

Even Denker — who has a playful personality and is clearly not afraid to say what’s on his mind — admitted as much.

“I joked around with a couple of my teammates — I wouldn’t say it to my coaches — that if we lose to Colorado, I just might quit,” Denker said. “They might not want me back next year. That’s the truth.”

Denker didn’t take many shots down the field, but the left-hander often effectively rolled to his left to hit short throws, didn’t force passes into trouble and was sacked only once.

“I feel like he was throwing the ball pretty well,” wide receiver Dan Buckner said with a smile. “I mean, he threw the ball to me three times for two touchdowns.”

Arizona’s tempo didn’t slow with Denker at the helm, although the Colorado offense was on the field for so long — 41 minutes, 48 seconds — that the Wildcats didn’t get enough possessions to run up their usual 86 plays per game. Arizona took only 52 snaps.

After the fumble, UA scored touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions. Five of those drives lasted less than two minutes. None took longer than 2:57, which was the lengthiest of Arizona’s 11 drives in the game.

“I thought B.J. made some really good decisions,” coach Rich Rodriguez. “He was sharp in his first extended action.”

The only blemish was that first-play fumble.

Denker, running a read-option play, said he didn’t even have time to make a decision on whether to hand the ball to Carey on an inside handoff as he was immediately under pressure by a Colorado stunt up front. Denker wasn’t able to hand off or pull back the ball, which ended up on the turf.

“After something like that, we just looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve got to forget it,’” Carey said.

“It’s got to be short-term memory, especially for him coming in for the first time. I was like, ‘Let’s go out there and have some fun. And then when we scored on the next one, I was the smile on his face and I said, ‘Let’s go then.’”

It remains to be seen how much bearing — if any — this game will have on a wide-open quarterback race in the spring after Scott completes his eligibility. More immediately, it remains to be seen whether Scott will be available next week at Utah.

“I didn’t go into this as an audition,” Denker said. “This game was for Matt Scott. I wanted to get the victory for him and the seniors.”

Related: Getting to know B.J. Denker

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