Three and throw.
Those are the three words that drive Rich Rodriguez’s passing game. In the coach’s up-tempo, zone-read offense, success through the air is dependent on timing.
For his quarterbacks to carve up defenses, they must make a three-step drop and throw. Often, the receiver won’t be where the quarterback is throwing, but Rodriguez is banking by the time the ball makes it there, he will be.
“Our offense is entirely based on timing,” Arizona senior wide receiver Terrence Miller said. “I wouldn’t say it’s hard, but I would say that it’s demanding. You have to be at certain spots at certain times. It has to be done. There’s no room for anything else.”
Too often in the UA’s first four games, it was three-and-wait or three-and-scramble for quarterback B.J. Denker. The results were near-misses, big incompletions and pre-pass panic.
But over the UA’s last four games, the quarterback has done less waiting and scrambling and more throwing.
“He’s trusting the route packages; he’s trusting the timing a lot better,” Rodriguez said of Denker. “There’s a lot of trust factor to it and that’s why I was upset in August.”
By now, you know about Denker’s improvement. Through the first four games, the senior was 45 for 90 for 445 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Over the last four games — including three straight wins — he’s 91 for 144 for 1,057 yards, seven TDs and one interception.
So maybe the biggest reason for Denker’s turnaround is his increased trust in Rodriguez’s timing. And perhaps the reason he even got that chance is because Rodriguez had enough trust in his quarterback that he would eventually get it down.
The coach said Monday he never really considered making a change at quarterback, even after Denker struggled against NAU, UNLV, UTSA and Washington.
“He was the best one we had,” Rodriguez said. “I say that even though he had a few moments in those games. We saw a lot of things that the general public wouldn’t know about how he was progressing; whether it was practice or even times in the game.
“You could see him week-by-week get more comfortable in what we were doing.”
Miller credited Denker’s “newfound confidence” for his recent success.
After Arizona’s win over Cal on Saturday, the quarterback said a big reason he has that confidence is because Rodriguez and the coaching staff stuck with him through the struggles.
“That feels good as the quarterback,” Denker said. “They believed in me from day one, saying, ‘This is our guy.’ I think the Washington game was a turning point. I wasn’t happy with my performance, but they stuck with me. You make a throw here and a throw there and then I believe I can do this again.
“My confidence is through the roof right now.”
Rodriguez confirmed Monday that wide receiver and special teams ace Trevor Ermisch will have surgery on his ACL and will miss the remainder of the season.
Ermisch hurt his knee on the opening kickoff of the Cal game when he went to make a cut. It was a non-contact injury.
The Phoenix O’Connor High School product was awarded a scholarship before the season and played on every special teams unit.
“Trevor is probably our most productive special teams player,” Rodriguez said. “He was just running down the field and making a cut to cross a guy’s face and just planted wrong or something on the turf.”
While Ermisch will miss the rest of the season, senior middle linebacker Jake Fischer could return Saturday after missing the Cal game with a knee injury.
“He’s still a little limited, but I’m anxious to see what he will do in practice,” the coach said.
Rodriguez said safety Jared Tevis, who missed the Utah and Colorado game with a knee injury, came out of the Cal game healthy. With Fischer out, Tevis played more of an outside linebacker spot than safety and held up fine.
“He really played the whole game and held up well,” Rodriguez said. “Jared’s a tough guy, so we knew he’d fight through that, but we didn’t expect him to have to play that many plays. But he did and I don’t think he’s any worse for the wear.”
Rodriguez doesn’t sit around on Sundays and watch NFL games. So the second-year coach didn’t watch former UA quarterback Nick Foles tie an NFL single-game record on Sunday with seven touchdown passes against the Oakland Raiders.
But he sure heard about it.
“I don’t watch any NFL because I don’t have time, but I wish I did because Nick put on a clinic,” Rodriguez said.
Miller, who was Foles’ teammate for three seasons, was happy to hear about the quarterback’s big game.
“I actually didn’t watch the game, but I heard good things,” Miller said. “It really wasn’t a surprise to me.
“Nick’s always been a baller and he’s one of those guys who stays in the film room and sets high goals for himself.”
Arizona’s Nov. 16 home game against Washington State will kick off at noon, the Pac-12 announced Monday.
The game will be televised by Pac-12 Arizona.
It will mark the earliest start time of the season thus far.