One night before Saturday's open practice at Arizona Stadium, the Wildcats hosted a talent show at the Westin La Paloma in a team-only event.

Senior quarterback B.J. Denker found himself to be the butt of a lot of jokes and skits.

Saturday - thanks to his play -he got some payback.

"Guys like to poke fun at me, and I can take it," Denker said. "I've definitely been the fan favorite of being made fun of this camp, which was expected because I got the most fire on me.

"It was funny to laugh at myself, and it gave me a little fire today, and I performed pretty well. I was pretty happy with it."

The Wildcats practiced for nearly two hours Saturday night, and the majority of it was non-contact 11-on-11. Denker ran with the first group on offense for all but one drive.

On the first drive of the evening, the senior from Torrance, Calif., didn't have an incompletion. No official stats were kept, but unofficially, Denker went 8 for 8 for 63 yards on the first drive against the second-team defense.

On his next drive, he completed a 40-yard pass on his first play to receiver Trevor Ermisch.

He didn't commit any turnovers and later added a pass to Johnny Jackson for a two-point conversion after a rushing touchdown.

Granted, he only played against the second group, but it was a clear step in the right direction.

"Today, he was better than he was yesterday and a lot better than he was a week ago," coach Rich Rodriguez said of Denker. "He's not full-speed running-wise, because he's a little hampered with a groin or something. It's just a minor thing. At least he was mentally sharper, and that's something we had to be quarterback-wise.

"I thought overall, they were all sharper mentally."

According to his teammates, Denker's play has been steadily improving since the start of camp two weeks ago, and with the season opener now just 12 days away, it's been an important development.

"He's elevated his play," senior linebacker Jake Fischer said. "He's still making a few mistakes, but that's because we're mixing up coverages and our defense - we've been able to mix in some things he hasn't seen. He's taking control of the offense. Him and Ka'Deem (Carey) are doing a great job.

"All the quarterbacks are doing a good job, and they're only going to get better."

That was the consensus Saturday night. The offense continues to be a work in progress, but was dramatically sharper and improved from a week ago at Fort Huachuca.

"All of our quarterbacks aren't close, but they are closer than they were a week ago," Rodriguez said.

Jesse Scroggins ran predominantly with the second group, minus one drive with the first team. He completed passes to Ermisch and Garic Wharton on that drive and then later was intercepted in the end zone by Jonathan McKnight.

Overall, Scroggins left Saturday's practice encouraged and said he continues to improve and understand Rodriguez's offense better.

This was the first time since Scroggins arrived on campus that he had a week of practice uninterrupted by an injury.

"I felt a lot more comfortable this week because I was able to progress each day," Scroggins said. "Each day I was working on something different. I tried to put it all together today.

"I just have to continue to put things together and get more and more comfortable."

The defense won the practice 52-49 after trailing 49-39 late. Rodriguez keeps score of every practice - open or closed. Afterwards, he was actually more pleased with the offense than the defense for one of the first times this camp.

"I didn't think defensively our intensity was as good as it has been," Rodriguez said. "That's just from my vantage point. I thought we had been more aggressive. Sometime it's limited when you're not going live all the time, but we had played better defensively in other practices."

Either way, it was an enjoyable night for the Wildcats. They went through the open practice without anyone suffering any major injuries and entertained the few thousand fans who showed up.

It was also the first time the players got a glimpse of what a game-day experience will be like in the new-look Arizona Stadium.

"Just look at the stadium; you remember four years ago, what it looked like," Fischer said. "We had some high school bleachers down there. We didn't have the big scoreboard. It's amazing how far it has come."

Arizona Wildcats 2013 football schedule

2013 Arizona Wildcats football schedule

Date Opponent Time
Fri., Aug. 30 NAU 7 p.m.
Sat., Sept. 7 at UNLV 7:30 p.m.
Sat. Sept. 14 Texas-San Antonio 7:30 p.m.
Sat., Sept. 28 at Washington TBA
Thu., Oct. 10 at USC 7:30 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 19 Utah TBA
Sat., Oct. 19 at Colorado TBA
Sat., Oct. 26 at California TBA
Sat., Nov. 9 UCLA TBA
Sat., Nov. 16 Washington St. TBA
Sat., Nov. 23 Oregon TBA
Sat., Nov. 30 at Arizona St. TBA

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk