TUCSON, Ariz. — Junior wide receiver Garic Wharton saw the proverbial light bulb turn on against Southern California earlier this month. His fellow wide receivers — a bevy of young ones — were, finally, getting it.
“It was the whole game where I felt we’re going to be OK (in the long run),” said Wharton, one of a few Arizona wide receivers Rich Rodriguez is going to this season in hopes of shaking up the offense. “B.J. Denker is making some good plays.”
And Arizona receivers are catching the passes. Easy ones; tough ones. And although it hasn’t resulted into a white-hot offense, it’s much improved compared with where it was at the start of the season.
Yes, Arizona still needs plenty of improvement on offensive end, but all of a sudden it appears as if its receivers are comfortable on the field.
Rodriguez sees it. It’s a very apparent “confidence.”
His young receivers — Wharton, freshmen Nate Phillips, Clive Georges and Samajie Grant, junior David Richards and sophomore Johnny Jackson — are growing up and doing the right things. In a game that is heavy in heat and pressure, Arizona’s young bunch is getting it.
“I’ve seen it in practice the last three or four weeks,” said Rodriguez. “Some of it is knowing what we are doing. We’re trying to limit our offense and not add too much stuff.”
Rodriguez said some of it comes back to the coaches — realizing they can’t, or shouldn’t, overload the young receivers with too much information.
“Our freshmen wideouts have been so good in handling our stuff that we keep adding (to it),” Rodriguez said. “And that’s a dangerous thing. We (ought to) let them settle in and see what we are doing and get better at it.”
The growth spurts first came in small doses. Then came a 57-yard touchdown pass to Phillips, a 45-yard touchdown pass to Wharton, a 9-yard pass to Richards and a 28 yard TD pass to Wharton.
All against USC.
Denker followed with an 18-for-30 night against Utah. The 168 passing yards weren’t the big bang Arizona saw against USC, but it was effective enough to make a difference.
“It’s definitely a marathon and not a sprint,” Wharton said. “It’s a long season. Against USC we showed promise.”
It has wide receivers coach Tony Dews smiling for the present and the future.
The only wide receiver the Wildcats lose next season is senior Terrence Miller. They will return all the aforementioned players, as well as All-American candidate Austin Hill AND transfers Da’Vonte Neal, Caleb Jones and a host of talented recruits who have impact potential.
“It’s certainly exciting to think about it,” Dews said of the future. “To have the virtually the entire group back and realize what kind of group we’re going to have.”
Of course, you can’t rush potential, but, …
“The thing about these guys is they enjoy playing football,” said Dews. “You can see it in their practice habits and preparation. They study their playbooks and they text me (late) asking me about plays. They are into it.
“They are having success now but they’re going to be better as they understand (more).”
The better they get, the better the opportunities for Arizona’s sensation Ka’Deem Carey, who is one of college football’s best running backs. He’s averaging 161 yards per game. And teams know he’s going to run it most of the time. A pass is almost like a sneak attack.
“They’ve come a long way I can call them veterans now,” said Carey. “They were kind of shaky. This is like high school now. They’re making good plays.
“They have a great future. They play so hard, and I love it.”
Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, whose Buffaloes host the Wildcats on Saturday, has noticed, too.
“They move them around a lot and do a lot of different things with them,” he said. “They’re also very aggressive blockers in what they do in their offense.
“They’ve gotten better and better each game. I’ve watched every bit of film. They’ve made big catches. I’m impressed with them. Hopefully they don’t’ grow up too quick.”
Each and every game, Dews becomes a better coach because of it. He smiled when told that. Next year?
“A much better coach,” he said, laughing. “This coaching thing is sometimes overrated. Sometimes you take or get too much credit when a guy plays well. Sometimes we run and hide when they’re not playing well.
“The nice part is when you see them start doing things. The last two weeks I’ve seen that.”