The Arizona Wildcats had smoldering concerns about their passing game going into their conference opener. Now, they have an inferno.
UA’s defense withered in the second half at Washington. The special teams had multiple miscues. But it’s the passing and the catching that are going to be Topics A through Z after Arizona’s 31-13 loss to the Huskies on a wet, windy and sometimes wild night in Seattle.
The flashpoint: B.J. Denker.
The senior completed 14 of 35 passes for 119 yards, with two interceptions, the second of which, coming with under eight minutes left at the Washington 42, set the nail that the Huskies used to hammer shut the door on the UA’s chances.
Did you see coach Rich Rodriguez on the sideline? For all the venom immediately directed toward Denker on social media and message boards, it’s nothing compared to the two dressing-downs the coach gave his quarterback during the game, dutifully captured by the FOX cameras.
“He made some plays and he did some good things, but there are also some things that you should never do,” Rodriguez said in his postgame interview on 1290-AM (KCUB).
Like throw an interception on the third play of the game. Like that second interception.
On first-and-10 from the Washington 42, Denker was forced to scramble to his left, all the way near the sideline. Instead of just going out of bounds or throwing the ball away, the left-hander attempted a cross-body pass back toward the middle of the field. Marcus Peters came up with the interception.
“The egregious errors are the things that we have to eliminate,” Rodriguez said.
Arizona’s passing attack entered the game as the Pac-12′s worst, one of the nation’s worst. The Wildcats were able to win their first three games almost solely on a steady run-game diet, and it wasn’t entirely clear what kind of horsepower was going unused in the passing game.
When the Wildcats (3-1 overall, 0-1 Pac-12) tried to shift to a higher gear, there was no giddy-up-and-go.
“Like I told the team, we’re going to be sick when we watch the film because there are some opportunities out there,” Rodriguez said.
“We knew it’s an issue,” he added about the passing game. “People are going to force us to throw the ball at times. We thought we had a couple of things there. And sometimes it was hard with the wind and rain; both sides struggled to throw the ball at times.
“That’s not an excuse; that’s just the reality of what it was weather-wise.”
Reality is, it’s hard to defend 14 of 35 under any conditions. When Denker needed to be quick and decisive, he was sometimes too patient, failing to fire. At other times, he was too impatient, abandoning the pocket instead of letting the routes develop. Just out of sync. Panicked.
This was his first real test. After starting last season against woeful Colorado and then NAU, UNLV and UTSA this year, Denker looked unprepared for the speed and talent of the 16th-ranked team on the road.
“It was just a terrible individual performance on my part,” Denker told reporters after the game.
“But when I cross the white lines for practice (Sunday), my head’s going to be clear. But when I go home and lay my head down at night, it’s probably going to be a little bit of different story.”
Including two incomplete passes by backup Javelle Allen on Saturday, Arizona is 45 of 92 passing, averaging 111.25 yards per game.
This is the worst passing attack since the early Dick Tomey days more than two decades ago. I’ll also wager this is the worst group of receivers since that time, creating a wreck at this unfortunate intersection of Can’t Pass and Not Open.
That’s why I can’t put all of this on Denker, and that’s one of the reasons why I don’t expect Rodriguez to make an immediate change.
Look all you want for a savior on the roster; I don’t think there is one. The so-called quarterback competition this fall turned out to be sham. There wasn’t one. Nobody challenged Denker. Nobody made a compelling case to Rodriguez.
Junior college transfer Jesse Scroggins has fallen so far out of favor that he wasn’t on the trip to Washington. The media doesn’t get to watch a lot of practice, but there is no indication — in fact, it’s the opposite — that Javelle Allen is a superior passer.
Nick Isham is limited physically. True freshman Anu Solomon did not dazzle from day one.
At some point, if what you’re doing isn’t working, there’s not much downside to doing something — anything — differently in terms of personnel. But the Cats aren’t there yet at quarterback.
This is what Arizona is going to have to live with this season. Last season’s attack was so prolific because the Wildcats had a trio of pillars — quarterback Matt Scott, running back Ka’Deem Carey and receiver Austin Hill — that held the offense in perfect balance.
Now, the Cats just have Carey.
I would love to know how many times UA’s outside receivers truly beat man/press coverage against the Huskies. It can’t be many. Washington dared Arizona to pass and made Carey earn every inch of his 132 yards on 30 carries. That defensive strategy won’t change any time soon.
Rodriguez said after the season-opening 35-0 win over NAU that the offense was going to have to “scrape and claw and do whatever we got to do just to win.”
It is going to be ugly at times. There’s no way around it. It can’t continue to be as unsightly as it was Saturday night, but Denker is still the best option.
Love really does overpower Hate. Through all the hate & terrible things people are sayin the texts from friends & fam mean a lot. Thank you
— BJ Denker (@VanillaV1ck7) September 29, 2013