The trip from Seattle to Tucson can be a long one and it only gets longer if you’ve just been blown out like the Arizona Wildcats were at the hands of the Washington Huskies. In their first real competition of the season, Arizona was found lacking, particularly under center. B.J. Denker has been dreadful at quarterback this season as he has engineered the No. 117 passing attack in college football, averaging a mere 111.3 yards per game. But Rich Rodriguez continues to back Denker as his quarterback, indicating the QB situation at Arizona may be in worse shape than anticipated.
Arizona knew it would struggle to replace the production of Matt Scott, who turned in one of the best seasons in college football last year for a quarterback in his first and only full year as the starter. Denker won the job because of his familiarity with the playbook having been the primary backup to Scott last season. That experience allowed the senior to stay ahead of some of the young arms on the depth chart who may have had more upside athletically but couldn’t run the offense the way Rodriguez wanted it done.
After watching Denker be largely ineffective during the team’s three non-conference wins before getting overwhelmed against the Huskies (14 of 35 for 119 yards and 2 INTs), questions have to be asked about where those other quarterbacks are at in their development. If they were anywhere close to having a command of the offense, you would think Rodriguez, who has used multiple quarterbacks in his offenses before, would be trying to get someone into the lineup who could provide a spark in the passing game.
But when talking to reporters, he insists that Denker is “still our best option right now,” which is alarming news for some highly touted quarterback recruits. Redshirt freshman Javelle Allen came out of nowhere in fall camp to become the No. 2 QB and was the only other signal caller Rodriguez mentioned by name in comments to reporters following the Washington loss. Allen surged late to take hold of the backup spot, but nobody was close to unseating Denker and nobody is clamoring to see Allen, who has not shown anything to suggest he is a better passer than Denker right now.
But what about Jesse Scroggins, Nick Isham or Anu Solomon? Scroggins, a former member of the USC Trojans, has plenty of physical gifts (or else he wouldn’t have been recruited by USC when they were batting 1.000 on quarterbacks), but a foot injury kept him during the spring and he hasn’t seemed to gain any traction in the quarterback race. Solomon was a highly coveted recruit that many though would be the true freshman to make the biggest impact this fall. So far, however, he hasn’t even sniffed starter’s snaps.
Part of the problem is a young, inexperienced receiving corps. Losing Austin Hill before the season started was a major blow that has seemed to have crippled the passing attack so far this season. Look at the Colorado Buffaloes and the effect that Paul Richardson’s return had on the play of Connor Wood to see how important a dominant, reliable receiver can be. Arizona is working with guys they weren’t expecting to be higher than three or four on the receiving depth chart.
But the bigger issue remains the quarterback. Denker has looked bad, no matter who he’s tried throwing to, with just one pass completion to a wide receiver longer than 20 yards. That stagnant aerial attack is affecting the running game where Ka’Deem Carey, the leading rusher in the country last season, needed 30 attempts on Saturday to gain 132 yards as he was unable to break a run longer than 13 yards.
If this is the best option at quarterback for Arizona and Rodriguez sees no benefit of switching things up, then the Wildcats’ passing game, along with their chances of making a run at a Pac 12 title, are in bigger trouble than anyone could have guessed.