Five months ago, Daniel Jenkins was thousands of miles away from his Arizona Wildcats teammates, hibernating in the high prairies of the Palouse.
Friday night, in front of 53,793 fans at Arizona Stadium, the senior ran like a bear, his career suddenly — and unexpectedly — awakened following an offseason slumber.
The onetime, sort-of Washington State Cougar rushed for 139 yards on 12 carries, including a 91-yard touchdown rush in the second quarter to lead the UA to a 35-0 win over Northern Arizona in the season-opener.
“He was on a spring sabbatical; he was doing his tour of the northwest part of the country,” coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I thought DJ was poised for a big year and a big game. He had a great summer and a great camp. He’s been probably one of the most explosive players we’ve had in camp. It was good to see him get that long run.
“He deserved this nice performance.”
Jenkins, a senior from Moreno Valley, Calif., was the featured back for the Wildcats in the opener for one major reason. Junior Ka’Deem Carey, who led the nation in rushing last season and was a consensus first-team All-American, was suspended for the game after a couple of well-documented offseason run-ins.
Rodriguez said after the game that he has known “for a while” that Carey wasn’t going to play, as did Carey.
The Canyon del Oro High School product is expected to play next week for its road game at UNLV.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do the last five or six months, but, we have team policies and team rules, and that stays in house,” Rodriguez said. “One of the ways to make it effective is to have playing time taken away.
“I’m sure Ka’Deem was hurting because he’s a great competitor.”
He was replaced by Jenkins, who, after last season decided to transfer to Washington State in hopes of getting more playing time. However, after a few months away from the UA and never officially enrolling at Washington State, Jenkins returned to the Wildcats in early May.
He was with the team for summer workouts and split time with Carey on the first team during camp.
Friday, he experienced the highlight of his five-year career and made sure to stop and appreciate it.
“In warm-ups, I came out of the tunnel and just took a lap around half of the field,” Jenkins said. “I almost (overdid it) a little early, expending my energy. But, it was great to be back in there in the stadium.”
Despite scoring 35 points and not breaking much of a sweat, Jenkins was one of the few highlights on offense.
Senior B.J. Denker started at quarterback, which was the worst-kept secret in Tucson, and was 9 for 13 for 87 yards and a touchdown. He added 72 yards on the ground and another score.
“I guess it was basically assumed” that he was the starter, Denker said. “I never had a conversation with any offensive coach where he said I was the starter. When it was the first play of the game, I ran out onto the field, and they didn’t stop me.”
But, the NAU defense managed to stop Denker and the UA offense to a degree. The Wildcats ran just 47 offensive plays to NAU’s 75.
Rodriguez said the team has to improve its passing game before next week’s game in Vegas, but saw enough to make him happy for a night.
“He took care of the ball and made a lot of good decisions,” Rodriguez said of Denker. “In our system, our quarterback has to make a lot of good decisions in the run game, and I thought he made a lot of good decisions there. There were a couple of throws that he’d like to have back.
“We probably could have taken a few more shots down field, and if the game wasn’t in control, we probably would have had to.”
Denker was replaced in the fourth quarter by redshirt freshman Javelle Allen with the Wildcats leading 28-0. On Allen’s second rush of his game — and his career — the Prosper, Texas, native took off for a 61-yard rushing score to make it
35-0. He didn’t attempt a throw and had just one other 6-yard carry to his credit.
Denker surely did enough to earn the start against UNLV, but Allen — not Jesse Scroggins — will keep it interesting.
“I can’t be relaxed because I won my first start,” Denker said. “I didn’t do all the things right that I wanted to.”
Defensively, the UA was close to doing all the things it wanted to.
NAU quarterback Kyren Poe was intercepted three times and sacked the same number. Safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant had two of the picks, returning one for a touchdown to open the second half.
True freshman cornerback Devin Holiday also had a pick in the win.
“(The turnovers) were huge and also the fact that we didn’t have any ourselves offensively,” Rodriguez said. “We punted a couple of times, but obviously the pick-six that Tra’Mayne had and the interceptions, those are extra possessions. When you’re playing somebody that’s going to melt the clock all the way down and limit your possessions, it makes every possession so valuable. So, when you sneak out a couple extra via turnovers, it’s huge.”