Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker dodges Oregon defensive end Tony Washington during the fourth quarter. Denker passed for 178 yards and ran for 102 in his final home game.
B.J. Denker walked into Room 370 of the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility following Saturday’s improbable win over No. 5 Oregon, flipped his phone to a nearby Arizona spokesperson and watched as it bounced off the wall and fell onto the ground.
It was — by far — his worst throw of the day.
The senior quarterback, playing in his final game at Arizona Stadium, saved his best for last.
The Torrance, Calif., native finished 19 for 22 for 178 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in Arizona’s 42-16 win over Oregon. On the ground, he added 102 yards on 14 carries.
Denker went over 2,000 passing yards on the season and now sits at 2,066 heading into next weekend’s regular-season finale at ASU.
“On this stage for a guy that nobody knew about out of high school and nobody knew about out of junior college and nobody knew about two months ago, I was pretty proud of B.J. Denker,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “He was really sharp in seeing the field. He was accurate all game long.”
Nobody may have known about Denker two months ago, but they surely do now after he outplayed a Heisman Trophy candidate. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota finished 27 for 41 for 308 yards and two touchdowns, but was intercepted twice.
Denker finished with a quarterback rating of 90.8, compared to Mariota’s 49.3.
“The coaches would have to judge that,” Denker said when asked if Saturday’s game was the best of his Arizona career. “But I don’t think I’ve played a better-feeling game. It had the most impact nationally and for the rankings. I just tried to do my job every play. I worked on some things in practice this week that I didn’t do last week.”
Denker’s memorable performance came one week after he had one he’d like to forget. Against Washington State, Denker threw for 200 yards and ran for 64, but fumbled once and for the second straight week, couldn’t lead his team down the field in a must-score situation in the two-minute drill.
He said before the game, when he took the field with his family for his Senior Day introduction, he had one thing on his mind: redemption.
“After the Washington State game last weekend, I felt like I didn’t play my best and our whole team didn’t play the best we could,” Denker said. “I wanted to come out here and prove to everybody that I can play here against a big-time team like (Oregon).
“We’re a good football team and when we put it all together, all three phases, we dominated them.”
Denker now needs 189 rushing yards over the next two games to reach 1,000. He would be the ninth quarterback from a BCS conference to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season.
He would be the third coached by Rodriguez to accomplish it.
UA finds success on 3rd downs, in red zone
After going 11 for 32 on third-down conversions the past two weeks, Arizona had a complete turnaround on Saturday. The Wildcats converted on 11 of 16 third downs in the win over the Ducks.
Denker and the offense converted on their first seven tries.
“Our whole focus is getting first downs and in third-down situations, it’s crucial to keep the drive alive and keep our tempo up and we did well with that,” Denker said.
On Arizona’s first drive, which resulted in a 6-yard score from Ka’Deem Carey, the UA converted on a third-and-one and a third-and-three. On the second drive, Denker found Trey Griffey for a 9-yard gain on third-and-eight.
Five plays later, Denker found Nate Phillips for a 9-yard touchdown.
Arizona was also golden in the red zone. The Wildcats scored touchdowns on all six of their red zone chances Saturday.
“We struggled with that the last couple of weeks, but we got in the red zone and we put up touchdowns, we didn’t walk away with zero points or three points, we walked away with touchdowns,” Denker said. “The third downs and the red zone efficiency was the biggest reason why we were up so much.”
Fischer’s big day
Carey, who became the school’s all-time leading rusher in the win, wasn’t the only local product to have a big game against the Ducks.
Senior Jake Fischer, who like Denker was playing in his final game at Arizona Stadium, led the team with 14 tackles.
The Ironwood Ridge High School product led an Arizona defense that held an Oregon offense that came into the game averaging 50.9 points per game to just 16.
“We knew that they were going to come out here and try to do different things,” Fischer said. “We were zoning in on what they were going to do and made the necessary adjustments. We did a good job at getting after the quarterback and making him uncomfortable.”
Fischer now has 75 tackles on the season and 259 for his career.
Saturday also marked Fischer’s first-ever win against the Ducks.
“We believe we can beat anybody on any given day and we proved it tonight,” Fischer said. “I’m glad we finally got Oregon because they’ve had our number the past few years, so it feels great.”
— Griffey started at wide receiver for the second straight game over David Richards.
Griffey, a redshirt freshman, who had the first four catches of his career last week against Washington State, finished Saturday’s game with three catches for 25 yards. Richards didn’t register a catch for the second straight week in limited snaps.
— Rodriguez improved to 15-9 at Arizona and is guaranteed a winning season. It’s the first time in his career Rodriguez has posted back-to-back winning seasons in his first two years at a school.