Greg Hansen: Denker's steady rise has Cats thinking big

2013-10-29T00:00:00Z 2013-11-11T14:26:14Z Greg Hansen: Denker's steady rise has Cats thinking bigBy Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Colorado linebacker Woodson Greer ran from the Folsom Field locker room carrying a sledgehammer on Saturday night. He took an exaggerated swing and planted it into the turf.

He then glared across the field, at Arizona’s football team, as if to say “not today, boys.’’

As I watched CU coach Mike McIntyre’s “toolbox’’ tradition unfold, I couldn’t decide which was more impressive: the macho sledgehammer run or Ralphie the buffalo circling the field in a full-out sprint.

I looked at Arizona quarterback B. J. Denker. He was twirling a football his hands, probably whistling a Doobie Brothers song, which had been the CU marching band’s pregame theme.

What sledgehammer?

“Sometimes he loses focus,’’ Arizona tailback Ka’Deem Carey would say after Arizona won 44-20 and Denker rushed for 192 yards, soaring into the school’s record book, No. 6 overall, in single-game total offense (457 yards).

Sometimes Denker comes off as so Southern California cool that you wonder where the surfboard is. As the Who used to sing “He ain’t got no distractions.’’

At Arizona, Denker is the least likely quarterback-who-can-take-you-to-a-bowl game since ... since ... ever?

Had all gone according to the 2010 blueprint, Arizona’s quarterback would probably be Daxx Garman or Cameron Allerheiligen. Yes, Garman and Allerheiligen. But you adjust on the run in college football. You recruit a ballyhooed former USC quarterback, Jesse Scroggins, buying some time.

Who ever knew, or even suspected, that B. J. Denker was, at any time, Arizona’s QB of the future?

At any time in BCS football, there are about 200 active and eligible scholarship quarterbacks. Of that group, about 30 are good enough to give you a chance every Saturday. That’s about all you can ask.

And now Arizona is asking Denker to give it a chance every Saturday, down the stretch, with each game seemingly more imposing than the next.

This began to take serious form at Arizona’s spring game, an otherwise unremarkable April afternoon at Kindall-Sancet Field, when Denker informed reporters that he knew more about Rich Rodriguez’s offense than anybody else on the roster. He shrugged. Who doesn’t know that? He walked away with an expression that suggested it wasn’t a boast but something he would back up.

RichRod has referred to Denker’s football IQ so often that you wonder why he’s not at some Quarterback U.

“He’s seeing things as quickly as the coaches see it,’’ RichRod said outside Arizona’s Folsom Field locker room on Saturday. “He’s nodding his head before you can even tell him what he could do differently.’’

You win a few and you lose a few more if you coach quarterbacks at Arizona. For every Jason Johnson that clicks, you trot out Brady Batten and Richard Kovalcheck and John Rattay.

Some of this goes beyond Denker’s athletic skill and absorption of his coach’s playbook. Some of it is RichRod and his quarterbacks coach, Rod Smith. It’s not like they just got lucky.

In the context of Pac-12 football, as developers-of-QBs, Rodriguez and Smith are in a category with WSU’s Mike Leach and Oregon State’s Mike Riley. This is why you give a college football coach $2.3 million a year.

It takes not just a quarterback to win, but men who can properly coach quarterbacks.

When asked about Denker’s 192 yards, believed to be the most for a QB in school history, outrushing Carey, the NCAA’s leading rusher, RichRod wasn’t shy.

“I’ve had a quarterback do that before, a couple of them as a matter of fact,’’ he said. “Denard Robinson and Pat White were really fast. But B.J.’s a competitor and I think that’s his best quality. He loves to compete.’’

McIntyre was not as impressed. His sledgehammer defense failed against a quarterback who probably would’ve ranked no higher than No. 11 of the Pac-12’s starting QBs entering the season.

“We couldn’t tackle the quarterback,’’ said McIntyre. “We must have missed him seven times. Probably 200 yards of offense came off of missed tackles on the quarterback.’’

The UA prefers to operate on the theory that Denker made CU miss. It is the fuel that puts Arizona in position to believe it can win again Saturday at Cal to improve to 6-2, and return to Tucson for a UCLA-WSU-Oregon homestand that will ultimately define the 2013 season.

“We want to have patience, but there’s no time for patience,’’ RichRod said. “These games are so important.’’

The Wildcats were desperate for Denker to be good yesterday, today and tomorrow. He has been a step ahead of the sledgehammer.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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