LAS VEGAS — B.J. Denker and Rich Rodriguez walked out of Arizona’s locker room late Saturday night looking like two men on the wrong side of a blowout loss.
There was no celebration, no smiles from either man. Both looked agitated and frustrated at times.
It wasn’t what you’d expect following a 58-13 road victory over UNLV.
Denker completed just 8 of 21 passes for 81 yards and, for the second game in a row, the UA passing attack left a lot to be desired.
“I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of a boat,” Denker said. “I’m pretty disappointed in that. I’m going to keep working. We took our shots; we were aggressive. (Rodriguez) let me take some shots down field; I just didn’t execute.”
Through two games, Denker is 17 of 34 for 168 yards and one touchdown. Those numbers come against an FCS opponent (NAU) and a UNLV team with six wins over the last three-plus seasons.
If the Wildcats are going to flourish in the Pac-12, the passing game has to improve.
“We just have to get better in the passing game,” Rodriguez said. “We made a couple of good reads and the routes were there — we just overthrew a couple and missed a couple. We have to get that right.”
Rodriguez opened up his playbook a little more against UNLV, and the Wildcats took more shots down field.
But Denker had trouble connecting with his receivers. The UA’s longest passing play against UNLV was an 18-yard completion to freshman Nate Phillips. Throw out Denker’s 31-yard completion to Garic Wharton on the team’s first drive against NAU, and the 18-yarder stands as the longest pass play of the season.
Arizona’s rushing attack has been much better, putting up 703 yards through two games. Denker knows what the unbalanced numbers mean.
“The defense is going to test me, so I have to rise to the challenge,” Denker said. “If not, we’re going to struggle a little bit, so that’s the pressure on me and I can take that pressure.”
Added Rodriguez: “I would have liked to hit a couple more plays and we have to. If teams are going to load up to stop Ka’Deem (Carey) and D.J. (Daniel Jenkins) and our running game, we have to be able to hit some balls down field.”
Despite Denker’s struggles, Rodriguez — who was caught yelling at his quarterback on television in the third quarter — stayed with the senior left-hander. Backup Javelle Allen didn’t enter the game until the fourth quarter; there, he played with the rest of the second team.
“B.J. is a competitive guy and he knows what he can do better,” Rodriguez said. “He’s seeing the field well and he’s making good decisions and there’s a couple of times he tucked (the ball) and did a really nice job. But I know there’s a couple of those throws he really wants to have back. He knows we have to hit those in the future. He’ll work hard this week.”
• The Wildcats scored two non-offensive touchdowns in Saturday’s win for the first time since recording an interception and a kickoff return in a 34-27 win at Iowa in 2010. The UA now has three defensive touchdowns through two games. Safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant is responsible for two of them, both interception returns.
“We’re undersized (and) there’s a lot of inexperience at certain spots, but they’re playing hard,” Rodriguez said. “I think they understand the scheme better. Our defense is a little unique. What we do is different and sometimes it takes a little while to understand it, but I’ve liked their attitude since the beginning of fall camp.”
• Kicker Jake Smith was 3 for 4 on field goal attempts and connected on seven extra points for a total of 16 points in the win, which set a new UA single-game record for a kicker. Smith’s 41-yard field goal in the first quarter marked his first career make for the Wildcats.
The former Syracuse and Youngstown State kicker missed his only field goal attempt against NAU.
• Arizona’s 28 second-quarter points set a program record for most scored in a single quarter of a road game. Carey had two touchdowns and Bondurant and linebacker Jake Fischer each had interception returns for touchdowns.
• Rodriguez and his staff named their players of the game Sunday afternoon. Carey was named the offensive player of the game. Fischer (defense) and Smith (special teams) were also recognized by the coaching staff. For the second straight week, freshman linebacker Scooby Wright was named the hard edge player of the game. For the scout team, Cayleb Jones (offense), Parker Zellers (defense) and Justin Samuels (special teams) were recognized.