Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said during Pac-12 media day in July that to expect the Wildcats' 2013 starting quarterback to replicate the 2012 numbers of redshirt senior Matt Scott "asking too much."
However, B.J. Denker may need to channel some of his predecessor's dual ability if Arizona is going to contend in a deep Pac-12 South.
Denker had no trouble carrying the ball through the Wildcats' first two blowout wins, running for 134 yards and three touchdowns.
His mobility is just one component in a multifaceted running game, alongside veteran Daniel Jenkins and All-American Ka'Deem Carey.
As good as Denker has been as both a complementary and big-play component of the ground game, his passing has been lackluster. The senior quarterback has completed just 17 of his 34 attempts, particularly struggling against the UNLV defense.
He was 8-of-21 in Arizona's 58-13 rout. Against the hapless Rebels, a consistent passing attack wasn't necessary. UNLV couldn't catch Carey nor the other three Arizona rushers who gained at least 63 yards, including Denker.
A daunting Pac-12 schedule awaits, and the Wildcats will see much stronger rush defenses in USC, Utah, Arizona State and the star-studded, UCLA linebacker corps.
Past Rodriguez-led offenses have functioned—quite well—without relying too much on the pass. Scott's 3620-yard performance in 2012 was an aberration when compared to the passing outputs of other notable, recent Rodriguez quarterback pupils Pat White, Denard Robinson and Rasheed Marshall.
However, White, Robinson and Marshall were all otherworldly rushers. All three also passed for at least 1600 yards in each full season they spent as a starter under Rodriguez. Denker is currently on pace to barely clear 1000 yards. Denker's been solid but not on the level of a Pat White or Denard Robinson.
Rodriguez seems confident Denker will find his touch, based on his evaluation of the senior's play during his weekly conference.
"His knowledge and understanding of what the coaches are doing [are primary to Denker's starting]," Rodriguez said, per ArizonaWildcats.com. "The last three weeks, he has shown that he really understands the system."
Denker's inconsistent passing is not an individual problem, as Rodriguez noted. The coach said incorrectly run routes hindered the Wildcats' aerial attack last Saturday, as well as overthrows.
"It's an execution thing. We hit them in practice, which was good, but we have to keep working on them," Rodriguez said.
Part of the problem is that Arizona's wide receiver corps is undergoing a major face lift with 2012 star Austin Hill out with a torn ACL. The unit won't have Davonte' Neal any time soon, as the university continues to appeal the NCAA for his eligibility.
That means making due with what it can, which translates to a steep learning curve. The Wildcats have one more opportunity to develop a rhythm and strike some balance before entering conference.
A UTSA defense that allowed over 500 yards passing last week comes to Tucson, and is likely to go heavy on stopping the run after the Wildcats' reliance on going to the ground through the first two weeks.
Though the outcome is likely to be lopsided in Arizona's favor, Saturday night will be telling for the Wildcats. Their ability to establish a consistent pass bodes well heading into the bye week, with conference play looming on the other side.
Another week with incorrect routes and overthrows, however, casts doubt with a stingy Washington defense waiting in Week 5.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.