BOULDER, Colo. —
B.J. Denker’s uniform was so fully grass-stained that you might’ve thought Arizona wore green on Saturday night.
The quarterback was the last man into Arizona’s locker room at Folsom Field, showing up with a bloody lip and a large red scrape on his throwing arm, happy scars from one of Arizona’s few road victories, which, to a long-suffering program like Arizona’s, can’t be undersold.
Denker’s arrival was so fully anticipated that his teammates waited until he walked through the door to sing “Bear Down Arizona,” the school’s victory song.
Denker ran right, he ran left, and in the end he ran away from Colorado, gaining 192 yards, almost 13 yards per carry, as the Wildcats won 44-20.
“They had to pick their poison in this game and they picked wrong,” said UA tailback Ka’Deem Carey, who attracted a crowd of CU defensive players on almost every play, not really a decoy, but in the end the labeling didn’t matter.
“We can share,” said Carey. “Sharing is caring.”
Colorado isn’t very good; the Buffaloes have now given up 2,497 yards in four lopsided Pac-12 games. And CU coach Mike MacIntyre was so steamed on Saturday that he muttered about giving up “200 yards” to Arizona after contact was made.
Winning at Folsom Field doesn’t isn’t the Great Healer, not against a team that has been beaten 57-16, 54-13 and 43-10 in conference games, not against a team starting a true freshman quarterback, but it is still a place you can blow an engine and a bowl bid.
Remember what happened here two years ago? Arizona lost 48-29 to a CU team that had lost seven straight games.
“We had some adversity,” said UA coach Rich Rodriguez. “We’re not world-beaters right now.”
But he looked over his shoulder, as Denker began posing for pictures with Arizona fans, and smiled.
It was a good day at the office.
If you drifted off in the second quarter, or if you are a DirecTV subscriber and didn’t see a snap, you might be surprised to know that Arizona went four consecutive series without gaining a first down early in the game, fell behind 13-10, and then became a barrel of energy.
“We were trying to keep our season alive,” said Denker.
Remember when Arizona lost back-to-back games at Washington and USC? Was that last year? Suddenly, everything has changed. The Wildcats (5-2) are 2-2 in the Pac-12. They’re not contenders, not yet, and they’re not likely to be, but neither are they 0-2 and seemingly buried the way they were a few weeks ago in Los Angeles.
“It makes us one step closer,” said Carey.
Even if you’ve been desensitized by college football’s pinball wizards, a fingers-on-the-switch mentality where the first-one-to-40 no longer assures success, some old-school values still prevail.
And if you don’t have those old-school abilities, you don’t get far by simply outscoring the other guy.
On Saturday, Arizona showed that stuffing a fake punt still pays off.
It showed that snuffing out your opponent on a fourth-and-goal counts the same as it did in 1984.
Wearing the other guy down — old-fashioned patience — is a good idea not because of something that happened in the past, but because you make it happen now.
Arizona hammered away at Colorado for 60 minutes on Saturday night, grinding, running 82 plays, beating the Buffaloes because the Wildcats got game-changing plays from Trevor Ermisch, Dan Pettinato and a lot of other guys who are not B.J. Denker and Ka’Deem Carey.
For a team that gained 670 yards and got a career performance from Denker, the Wildcats put a bow on their most complete road game of the season by avoiding The Big Mistake and playing with immediacy.
What went unsaid in the joy of a winner’s locker room was that Arizona won a road game without three of its best defensive players. Safeties Tra’Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis did not play because of injuries, and linebacker Jake Fischer was hurt in the second half.
A year ago that might’ve led to a collapse. But on Saturday, when all it would’ve taken to swing the game was a shanked punt or something that usually infects a bad team, the Wildcats kept making plays.
“We should be good in the fourth quarter; we should trust our conditioning,” said Rodriguez.
Stymied, trailing in the second quarter, Rodriguez didn’t change his playbook. He strongly suspected Colorado’s young defense, one that starts just three seniors, would overplay Carey, leaving Denker with space.
Colorado had allowed 608 yards per conference game; something was due to break, and it was the Buffaloes’ defense.
Each time Denker was about to put the football into Carey’s hands on a zone-read play at scrimmage, he would see seven and eight Buffaloes squeezing the middle. So he pulled the ball away, rolled out and ran for gains of 30, 11, 18, 54, whatever. Poison.
“They forced me to keep the football,” said Denker.
It wasn’t just beating a hapless opponent, either. Denker hit NFL-type deep throws to Nate Phillips and Terrence Miller, both of them momentum-changers, both of them crushing Colorado’s spirit before the Buffaloes could hang around and steal the game.
Those are throws Denker didn’t seem capable of making in September, and this was a game that in training camp Arizona didn’t figure to win with fourth-quarter ease.
One thing that made RichRod happy was that his young club didn’t get carried away by last week’s victory over Utah.
“I really thought we matched the intensity we had at home,” he said.
He left the bitter words to MacIntyre, who is up to his ears in rebuilding the way Rodriguez was a year ago. Asked why losing to Arizona hurt so much, McIntyre said “because we can beat that team.”
Or maybe not.