While Arizona was oft-criticized last season for its defensive play in coach Rich Rodriguez’s debut year, the team’s second scrimmage of the spring might have created cause for optimism in that area.
However, the alternative — that the offense played poorly Friday night — wasn’t lost on Rodriguez following the approximately 60-play scrimmage at Phoenix College, an event the Wildcats have made an annual one in spring practice.
The defense was credited with the victory in the game-type setting, and Rodriguez said there was obvious improvement in all areas after last weekend’s scrimmage in Tucson, which drew not-so-rave reviews from the coach.
“I think we were better defensively,” Rodriguez said. “We applied more pressure.
“Offensively, there are some execution things. But offensively, I was a little disappointed overall. Our tempo wasn’t as good as it can be.”
Perhaps contributing to the offense’s issues was the limited availability of All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey, who had just one carry and has played sparingly in scrimmage settings to avoid injury. After Carey rushed for a national-best 1,929 yards last year, the Wildcats know what they have in the junior.
They know less of what they have at quarterback, where B.J. Denker is the presumptive favorite to replace the draft-bound Matt Scott. While completion and attempt stats were not available, Denker did throw for 176 yards and four touchdowns to go along with one interception in the scrimmage, although Rodriguez tempered his praise.
“He’s taking charge a bit, being a bit more vocal,” Rodriguez said of Denker. “He has played better in other scrimmages than he did in this one. He was off a little bit in some respects; some of it wasn’t his fault. He’ll keep working to get better, because it’s important to him.”
As for Denker, the fifth-year senior continued to downplay talk of the starting job he’s competing for with redshirt freshman Javelle Allen, with true freshman Anu Solomon also a candidate once he arrives in the fall.
“I don’t want the position given to me, and I don’t think it should be. Competition makes you a better player and makes the team better,” Denker said. “I’m fine with it being open; I don’t want (Rodriguez) giving me the job. I want to earn it. Any time I get in the game in practice, I’m going to try to show him that I’m the best man for the job and that he can win with me. That’s how I take every snap.”
Denker’s four TD passes were to four different receivers — Austin Hill, Terrence Miller, Tyler Slavin and Jared Baker — whereas his lone interception was a deep ball that cornerback Richard Morrison pulled away from Hill. Redshirt freshman Trey Griffey also had a touchdown catch from walk-on quarterback Jack Nykaza.
Allen, more of a running threat than Denker, showed that ability Friday night by rushing for 57 yards and a score while also throwing for 50 yards and a touchdown.
Beyond that, the defense was the big winner in a game in which Rodriguez wasn’t overwhelmed by the quarterback play.
“I saw a few flashes,” Rodriguez said. “We should do more (scrimmages) like this. More like a game environment for our young guys.
“There were some good plays for our quarterbacks, but there were some nervous plays, too. Hopefully we’ll get those fixed up before the next scrimmage.”