BOULDER, Colo. — Four weeks ago, B.J. Denker was afraid to check his own phone. He was a quarterback searching for confidence after blundering through an 18-point loss at Washington.
On Saturday, following Arizona’s convincing 44-20 win over Colorado, it was a different story; Denker couldn’t wait to check his messages.
That’s what a big-time performance and a couple of wins will do for a quarterback.
Denker rushed for 192 yards on 15 carries and added 265 passing yards and a score in Arizona’s road victory. The Wildcats gained 670 yards Saturday night, the third-best single-game performance in program history.
“It’s nice to check my phone and see the congratulatory texts and not the ‘you didn’t play so well’ texts,” Denker said. “It’s much better. It’s been 100 percent about confidence. Not just me, but with the receivers, too. We played tight at the beginning of the year, but now we’re loose and having fun.”
It was fun for Denker and the Wildcats, and misery for the 38,679 fans at Folsom Field.
They came hoping Ka’Deem Carey wouldn’t tear them up for 300-plus yards like he did last year at Arizona Stadium. They left, probably asking each other, “Who is that No. 7?”
Denker had five completions of 24 or more yards and had rushes of 54 and 46 yards. Suddenly, defenses must worry about a rusher other than Carey when they play the UA.
“B.J.’s running was a key,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “The way they were playing us and the way they were reacting after the snap, they were going to take away a lot of Ka’Deem’s inside runs, so B.J. had some opportunities.”
Arizona doesn’t keep records of single-game rushing by a quarterback, but no signal-caller has ever rushed for 200 yards in a game, a feat almost accomplished by Denker.
While Matt Scott threw for 3,620 yards last year, he finished with just 506 rushing yards. Denker, brought to Arizona as insurance to Scott, left Boulder with 519 rushing yards through seven games.
He’s making plays and his teammates are noticing.
“He was an all-around player today,” Carey said. “It’s just the confidence with him. Every time you step on the field and he makes a bad throw, I just tell him, ‘Smile.’ Once he starts smiling, he gets back in his comfort zone and he just loves football again.”
Even the opposing coaches are noticing.
“He threw the ball better than I’ve ever seen him throw in every game I’ve ever watched him play,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. “He came through. He really did. He did a great job.”
Denker had one miscue in the win, a second-quarter interception. After the pass, Carey was waiting for him on the sideline to make sure that the Denker who struggled at Washington wasn’t coming back.
“I think Michael Jackson was playing after his interception and I started dancing,” Carey said. “I did a little Michael Jackson move on him and he started smiling and he boosted himself up and went out there and made plays.”
Denker’s interception came with 7:38 to play in the second quarter and the game tied at 10. Colorado (3-4, 0-4) scored a 48-yard field goal on the ensuing drive to take its only lead of the game.
The following two drives, Denker and the Arizona offense flipped the momentum of the game.
The senior quarterback helped engineer a nine-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a 7-yard rushing score from Carey. Denker had completions of 25 and 22 yards on that drive and scrambled for a 5-yard gain on third-and-five.
Following a quick three-and-out by Colorado, Carey rushed for 30 yards and then Denker found freshman Nate Phillips for a 44-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-13 with 50 seconds remaining in the half.
The Wildcats never looked back after that swing.
“That was a very key time for us,” Denker said. “We had kind of flattened off after a strong start. So to end the half like we did and then come out in the third quarter, too, that was the key to the ballgame.”
Carey didn’t go for 300 yards against the Buffs again, but he did finish with 119 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries. He now has nine TDs against Colorado the past two years.
The running back injured his elbow right before halftime — “It numbed up on me,” he said — but said he felt fine after the game. Rodriguez took Carey out earlier than normal in the fourth quarter, but said he could have played through it if he had to.
Carey now has 10 touchdowns this season and 20 in his past 11 games. He’s also rushed for more than 100 yards in each of those 11 games and now has at least three touchdowns in five career games.
He only had one touchdown last week, during his 39-carry, 232-yard performance against Utah. Tonight, Denker made sure he fed his All-America back near the goal line.
“Sharing is caring,” Carey said laughing. “He got the scores last week and I got them this week. I don’t care who gets them as long as we win.”
Elsewhere, Phillips and Terrence Miller led the UA with 69 receiving yards apiece. Phillips has caught touchdown passes in three straight games.
Arizona (5-2, 2-2) plays on the road again next week at Cal.