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Q&A with Arizona’s B.J. Denker: On UCLA’s defense, setting records, criticism

B.J. Denker has rushed for 11 touchdowns this season. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

B.J. Denker has rushed for 11 touchdowns this season. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The in-season development of Arizona senior quarterback B.J. Denker has given the Wildcats a viable second option to running back Ka’Deem Carey.

Confidence growing, timing with his receivers improving, Denker has completed 91 of 144 passes for 1,057 yards, with seven touchdowns and one interception in the past four games.

He has 563 rushing yards on the season, needing just four yards Saturday against UCLA (8 p.m., ESPN), to break the school single-season rushing record for a quarterback. Ronald Veal ran for 566 yards as a freshman in 1987, when first-year coach Dick Tomey tried a combination of wishbone and run-and-shoot offenses.

Denker already has 11 rushing touchdowns, breaking the UA’s single-season quarterback record of nine, also set by Veal in 1987.

“I don’t think he ever lacked confidence in himself,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said of Denker.

“But it helps to have some success in a game, just so the rest of the guys around him would have confidence in him. I think he’s comfortable with what we’re doing. I think we found some of the things he does well. Sometimes you have to have a game, or games, to truly find out what he does well in a game.”

I caught up with Denker after practice this week, and here is some that conversation (with Steve Rivera of FoxSportsArizona.com and Jason Scheer of WildcatAuthority.com also joining in):

Q: Is UCLA more than just another game?

DENKER: “It’s a big game in terms of standings and Homecoming and some of the outside stuff you can’t control. But we’re not going to go out there and pee our pants just because it’s UCLA, you know what I mean? We legitimately believe we can come in and win. We’re not going to play out of our comfort zone or above our talent or try to do too much at all. Coach won’t allow that. We do the same thing every single day, every single week. We prepare the same way. Will I be nervous? Yeah, without a doubt, but I’m nervous every game. Will Ka’Deem be great? Yeah, Ka’Deem is great every game.”

Q: You took a lot of criticism earlier in the season. How did you handle that?

DENKER: “The social media was the toughest. I could stay off the computer — and who reads a newspaper nowadays anyway? — but when it’s sent directly to your phone, you have to see it eventually. A lot of it I blocked out. I had to delete a couple of tweets (I was ready to send) and put my phone away. But, yeah, when I was in bed at night, it hurt a little bit. It was a little tough. But it’s in the past. I told myself if I play well, then it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Q: What are thinking when you see five-man defensive fronts and those guys coming in to stop Ka’Deem?

DENKER: “I like it, personally, because it simplifies my job. When you stack the box, you can only do one or two coverages. Either they’re in man or they’re in cover zero. They’re asking for a big play — on either side of the ball. They’re either going to get a sack or a turnover, or we’re going to get some points. I like it. It condenses the box and spreads out the field, so if I get out on the perimeter, I have a lot of room to run and make a play.”

Q: You’ve talked about growing up in Los Angeles hating USC. How big of a UCLA were you?

DENKER: “Huge UCLA fan. My dad and I went to Pasadena a lot. I had all the gear. Yeah, I was a big UCLA fan. We went to a lot of games from when I was like 6 to 12. The last game I went to was when I was like a sophomore in high school. … I never saw Arizona play. I was totally oblivious and ignorant of Arizona. I had no idea about anything of this school growing up at all. Nothing.”

B.J. Denker says he's not panicking as he was earlier in the year. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

B.J. Denker says he’s not panicking as he was earlier in the year. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Q: Did you know you’re close to the Arizona quarterback rushing record?

DENKER: “I had no idea I was even close to it, or if it was attainable. It’s pretty exciting. I didn’t think I would have a couple of records. It’s pretty cool, especially when you only get to play one year and you get your name etched in stone for as long as possible.”

Q: Matt Scott (on the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad) was in town last week. How much did you get to see him?

DENKER: “Matt came to practice and we ate dinner up in the facility together. We hung out and talked. No advice. He was just supportive; we we’re talking a lot about him. He’s in an exciting time in his life. He was looking at the new facility and some of the new transfers we got, and he was in awe of the new stuff. He didn’t care about me too much (laughs). We had a good time.”

Q: Can you imagine that you’ll look back someday and say, “Wow, I played with Ka’Deem Carey?”

DENKER: “That’s special. I played with Ka’Deem Carey and under coach Rich Rodriguez. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I’ll take it.”

Q: Have your reads improved?

DENKER: “Yeah, in the passing game probably a lot more than the run game. We did so well in the run game early on in the season. Passing, I’m trusting my eyes, I’m staying true to my reads, I’m going into my progressions. The first couple of games, if my first read wasn’t there, I might panic a little bit and try to take off. Now, it’s first read, second read, hit the third read or take off. I’m trusting myself and my line. And I’m studying a whole bunch more and I’m so much more knowledgeable of the game and what they’re trying to do to stop us.”

Q: Speed-wise, how does UCLA compare to the defenses you’re seen?

DENKER: “We know they have (linebacker) Anthony Barr, who’s a talented guy and who’s long and athletic. They have some good guys. He jumps out off the screen. But I don’t know if the defense as a whole … USC, I still feel, 100 percent, hands-down, was the most athletic and fast defense, especially in the front seven. I don’t think they’re (the Bruins) are as athletic and fast, but they have pieces and some guys who are like that.”

Q: Does playing quarterback at a major college still feel like you’re living the dream?

DENKER: “I’m 100 percent still living the dream. Obviously, it’s sunk in that it’s a reality that I’m playing and having some success, but every day I wake up and go, ‘I’m really playing here at the University of Arizona.’ And we have a chance to make some impact in the Pac-12. Every single day is fun for me and it’s a dream. I’m so blessed and so happy.”

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