SEATTLE — With the sun completely down and the rain still falling, B.J. Denker stood on the Husky Stadium sideline a lonely man in the final minutes of Arizona’s 31-13 loss to Washington.
With a blue-and-red hooded coat covering his upper body, the quarterback rocked back and forth thinking about the previous three hours of his football career and his cruel welcome to Pac-12 football.
This wasn’t Colorado, this wasn’t UNLV and this certainly wasn’t Cerritos (Calif.) Junior College. This was big-boy football in big-boy conditions, and it didn’t go as planned for the senior signal-caller.
“It was just a terrible individual performance on my part,” Denker said. “When I cross the white lines for practice, 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 a different story.”
Denker finished 14 for 35 for 119 yards and two interceptions in Arizona’s loss. He often looked frazzled and frustrated by the steady rain and had trouble generating any sort of consistency in the passing game.
Washington’s Sean Parker intercepted the senior’s first pass attempt. Denker finished the first quarter 0 for 3, and was sacked twice.
“There were times he competed really well and there were some egregious errors that he knows better than,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “It’s pretty obvious when you see things and you’re like ‘Gosh, you shouldn’t do that.’ He’s a smart guy, though; he’ll learn from that.”
By halftime, Denker was 7 of 18 for 42 yards, but — here’s the kicker — the Wildcats were still in the game.
Denker wasn’t the only quarterback who had to play in the wet and windy conditions. Washington’s Keith Price didn’t complete a pass in the second quarter and was 4 of 12 for 39 yards with a touchdown and a pick at half.
The result was Arizona down just five, 11-6.
“It was the same for both teams; it was wet and hard to grip the ball,” said Rodriguez of the conditions, which at kickoff were 60 degrees and rainy with winds at nearly 20 miles per hour.
But as bad as Price and Washington were at times, Arizona was worse.
The Wildcats didn’t register a first down in the first quarter, and finished the period with just 11 yards on 16 plays.
“I’m nervous before every game and that first quarter— the first couple of drives — you want to try to move the football so you can get rid of those nerves and when you go three-and-out three or four times in a row, you can’t really get in a rhythm and the nerves are still there,” Denker said.
Price and Washington came alive in the third quarter. The Huskies had two drives in that frame and scored touchdowns on both. The team’s first drive went for 95 yards on 14 plays and resulted in a 1-yard touchdown pass from Price to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The second drive spanned 90 yards on 10 plays and ended with a 1-yard scoring plunge from Huskies running back Bishop Sankey.
“We felt like we just needed to come out and be more physical,” Washington linebacker Princeton Fuimaono said. “The second half is always harder, so we came into the locker room and said, ‘Keep doing what we’re doing, but be more physical.’ And we came out and we did that.”
Sankey finished with a school-record 40 carries, gained 161 yards and scored a touchdown. Price completed 14 for 25 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
The Wildcats’ defense, so solid in the first half, wilted in the rain.
“In the second half, I didn’t think we tackled well and we didn’t get off blocks well,” Rodriguez said. “They broke more tackles in the second half then we had given up all season, I think.”
Denker and running back Ka’Deem Carey also had a little more success in the second half when the conditions settled a bit, but not enough. Carey finished with 132 yards on a career-high 30 carries. He scored on a 3-yard run in the second quarter.
The junior rushed for more than 100 yards for the 11th time in his last 12 games. Carey was not made available to the media after the game.
As good as Carey was, Rodriguez admitted that “part of the deal” of being quarterback is having to take most of the blame in a loss.
Denker didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the second time this season. By comparison, Matt Scott was shut out just twice last season and Nick Foles was held without a touchdown pass just three times in his career.
Rodriguez said after the game he didn’t consider going to backup Javelle Allen earlier — the redshirt freshman played the final two drives of the game — and it sounds as if Denker is still the UA’s man.
The Wildcats have a bye week coming up before traveling to USC on Oct. 10. The Thursday night game will be televised nationally.
“We coach him pretty hard, but if you’re a competitor, which B.J. is, he’ll fix what he has to fix and come back the next time,” Rodriguez said. “It’s his fifth game starting, he doesn’t have a lot of experience, but at the same time, we demand a lot and ask a lot.”