Arizona came into this season with a lot of question marks. But as the Wildcats get ready to start Pac-12 Conference play this weekend, those symbols have been replaced with exclamation points.
In running out to its second straight 3-0 start—the first time the school has done so since 1993 and 1994—Arizona's run-heavy offense and ball-hawking defense have produced a handful of surprising breakout stars.
Beyond expected standout running back Ka'Deem Carey, that is.
Though the Wildcats haven't faced the kind of competition they'll run into in the conference, starting with Saturday's game at No. 16 Washington, the contributions they've gotten from the following players bode well for a good run over the next nine games:
1. B.J. Denker, Sr., QB
The arm strength and passing accuracy is still uncertain, but Denker has more than made up for that part of his game by having complete control of Arizona's read-option offense. Whether it's picking the right times to give it to Carey, keeping it himself or pulling back for a throw, Denker has made very few mistakes through the first three games.
Denker has overthrown a few balls but hasn't forced a pass into coverage. Most times, he's made the quick choice to tuck and run, and some of those decisions have led to his best and longest runs. Denker's 74.7 rushing yards per game is seventh among FBS quarterbacks.
2. Scooby Wright, Fr., LB
As the strong-side (or "Sam") linebacker in a 3-3-5 defense, Wright is responsible for both run-stopping and covering a tight end. That requires amazing versatility, so for Wright to be doing this as a true freshman shows how much he impressed Arizona's coaches during the preseason. He's also impressed in game action, as he's tied for the team lead in both tackles (19) and tackles for loss (three).
3. Steven Gurrola, Jr., C
The Wildcats operate almost exclusively out of the shotgun, which puts an added premium on snap accuracy. Gurrola was recruited from Glendale (Ariz.) Community College for just that reason, and through three games he hasn't disappointed.
Arizona has been able to execute its run game without worrying about the center-quarterback exchange, and once the ball is out, Gurrola has continued to perform well by anchoring an offensive line that's allowed just three sacks and enabled a 322.3 yards-per-game rushing average.
4. Tevin Hood, Sr., DL
Hood is the beef in the middle of the Wildcats' three-man defensive line, and he's doing his best to get in the way. Whether it be as a run-stopper, where he's registered 10 tackles, or as a pass-rusher (one sack, one forced fumble), Hood is a key to how Arizona has—to this point, at least—kept its opponents from generating much offense.
5. Garic Wharton, Jr., WR
Wharton entered the season as a seldom-used pass-catcher—someone who got either mop-up time or the occasional catch as a second or third option in a four- or five-receiver set. But with so many top receivers either gone from the program or injured, Wharton has had to take on the role of a primary target in Arizona's infrequent air attack.
Though unimpressive compared to other teams, Wharton's seven receptions lead all Arizona players, and his 109 yards accounts for more than one-third of the Wildcats' receiving yards and is more than any two other receivers' outputs combined.
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