In Rich Rodriguez’s glossary of coachspeak, there’s one term that gets used more than the rest.
“He needs to be good enough to win with,” Rodriguez will often say when asked about a certain player or position.
Saturday against Utah, quarterback B.J. Denker was good enough to win with.
The senior completed 18 of 30 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown and added 51 yards and two scores on the ground in Arizona’s 35-24 win.
It was just three weeks ago, in a 31-13 loss to Washington, when Denker wasn’t good enough to help his team get a victory. His confidence rattled by the Huskies defense and nasty weather, the Torrance, Calif., native was 14 for 35 for 119 yards, no touchdowns and two picks.
But his demeanor — and production — have both improved the last two weeks, especially the past six quarters. His uptick started in the second half of Arizona’s 38-31 loss to USC on Oct. 10.
Consider these numbers:
In his first 18 quarters, Denker went 61 for 111 for 654 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, which equates to a quarterback rating of 109.7.
Over the last six, Denker is 30 for 53 for 322 yards, four touchdowns and no picks – a rating of 132.5.
The switch has been flipped.
“In the second half of the USC game, I saw his confidence grow,” Rodriguez said. “I saw it all week (leading up to Utah), probably for the first time to the level we expected it from our starting quarterback. He’s telling us what to see, he’s telling wide receivers their adjustments, he’s got confidence.
“B.J. is a sharp guy. You can’t forget this is just his seventh game that he’s played in.”
Denker’s statistics aren’t the only thing benefiting from his increased confidence. Rodriguez said the senior is making good run-pass decisions. He’s being smart about when to hand off the ball to running back Ka’Deem Carey, when to take it himself and when to air it out.
After Saturday’s game, Rodriguez said Denker’s lone bad read came in the first half on a fourth-and-2 from the two-yard line when the quarterback kept it himself and was sacked, rather than hand it off to Carey, who had a lane.
“I thought B.J. did a nice job with his reads,” Rodriguez said. “That gives us a little bit of balance. Sometimes you’re like ‘what is he doing?’ He’s running around there like Fran Tarkenton. But at least he competes and I think he’ll get better every week.”
Added Carey of Denker’s performance against the Utes: “I feel like the offense has a great rhythm right now. B.J. had a great game spreading it out, throwing it deep and getting them out of the box a little bit.”
Here’s a quick breakdown of Denker’s last six quarters.
Third quarter versus USC
The numbers: 3 for 8 for 53 yards, one touchdown.
The highlight: A 45-yard touchdown pass to Garic Wharton on second-and-9.
Fourth quarter versus USC
The numbers: 9 for 15 for 101 yards, two touchdowns.
The highlight: A 28-yard touchdown pass to Wharton with 4:18 remaining to bring the UA within seven points. That pass marked Denker’s fifth straight completion for a total of 70 yards.
First quarter versus Utah
The numbers: 6 for 9 for 39 yards.
The highlight: A 10-yard touchdown rush on the UA’s first drive to open the scoring. It followed a 16-yard rush.
Second quarter versus Utah
The numbers: 5 for 6 for 44 yards.
The highlight: A 21-yard completion to Johnny Jackson on thirrd-and-7 from his own 42-yard line. Denker finished that drive eight plays later with a one-yard touchdown run.
Third quarter versus Utah
The numbers: 4 for 11 for 42 yards.
The highlight: A nine-yard completion to David Richards on third-and-5 from his own 10-yard line.
Fourth quarter versus Utah
The numbers: 3 for 4 for 43 yards and one touchdown.
The highlight: A 36-yard completion to Nate Phillips down the sideline on third-and-3 from Utah’s 45-yard line. Denker then hit Phillips again three plays later for a seven-yard touchdown to put Arizona in front for good.
• Levi Walton, a two-star offensive tackle from Cape Coral, Fla., pledged to the UA at breakfast Sunday morning on his official visit.
Walton is listed at 6 feet 6 inches and 275 pounds by the Scout.com recruiting service. He also had offers from Indiana, Ball State, Florida International and others.
He’s the first offensive tackle to commit for the 2014 class.
“I felt at home here,” Walton said Sunday morning before flying back to Florida. “I liked the city and how they backed up their program.
“All the players took me in and it just felt like a great place.”
• Following his 236 yards on 40 carries against Utah, Carey now leads the nation in rushing yards per game at 161. The next closest is Antonio Andrews from Western Kentucky at 148.
“I felt all 40 carries,” Carey said after the game.
“That was fun. The blockers were out there giving me holes and I just took it.”
• Carey was named the team’s offensive player of the game by Rodriguez and his staff on Sunday. Sione Tuihalamaka and Reggie Gilbert were the co-defensive players of the game and Terris Jones-Grigsby took home the special teams honors. Tellas Jones was the “hard edge” player of the week.