B.J. Denker will again take the lumps in Saturday's 24-17 loss to Washington State. He'll probably welcome the criticism, too.
Completing 26-of-38 passes for 200 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions -- he did lose a fumble -- the senior quarterback led the Wildcats 67 yards down the field but with the clock winding down missed a touchdown pass as the Arizona Wildcats fell in the final seconds.
The winding clock was Denker's fault. He gracefully led the Wildcats down the field in two minutes against a sagging WSU defense and even scrambled miraculously out of trouble on a fourth down. But with seconds left on the 15-yard line, Denker tried to tip-toe the sideline up the field rather than take it out of bounds on the third down. The result was a running game clock and only one rushed chance to find the end zone on a fourth down. It didn't happen.
Suddenly, the Wildcats find themselves 6-4 on the season with two games left against Arizona State and Oregon. Bowl game eligibility certainly doesn't seen good enough at this point -- and it's not even good enough for Arizona to make a lower-tier bowl game.
Denker could be blamed, but as it is, this wasn't all on him.
For whatever reason, Arizona looked sleepy.
Washington State opened the game on cruise control and in no way found resistance from the Arizona defense. Quarterback Connor Halliday led the Cougars on a seven-play, 60-yard drive in the first three minutes of the game to take a 7-0 lead.
Aside from the first offensive play for the Wildcats, the offense stalled early on. Trey Griffey made a surprise start at receiver and caught an 11-yard pass on the first play, but UA didn't get another first down for 11 minutes of gametime. WSU led 10-0 late the first quarter as the defense held a drive in the red zone to force a field goal. Carey started a late first-quarter drive with a 13-yard burst for the second first-down of the game, then finished a drive off with a 30-yard touchdown jaunt.
Midway through the second quarter, the Arizona offense began clicking, and Denker hit Carey for a 7-yard touchdown run to give the Wildcats a 14-10 lead. Jake Smith missed a 40-yard field goal as UA drove with the hopes of tacking on another score before the half -- this came after a Denker pass was dropped in the end zone by Terrence Miller -- and then more poor special teams play led to a Washington State touchdown in the third quarter.
After a three-and-out, punter Drew Riggleman allowed a ball to
wriggle slip out of his hands.
The fumble gave the Cougars possession on Arizona's 31-yard line, and WSU ground out a score on six plays that ended with Halliday finding receiver River Cracraft for a 23-yard touchdown.
With 11 minutes left in the game, the Wildcats narrowly dodged a bullet in the form of missed WSU 46-yard field goal that clanged off the left upright. Smith answered the miss with one of his own, this time hooking a reasonable kick from 34 yards out with seven minutes left in the game.
But as Arizona's defense had against a spread Air Raid offense at Cal, it decided to sit back and make Halliday beat it -- and he did.
The Cougs quarterback led a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ate nearly five minutes off the clock as the Wildcats rushed just three yet gave Halliday all the time in the world for the eight players in coverage to lose a WSU receiver. The final play, a 23-yard pass from Halliday to Isiah Myers, said it all.
The Wildcats had two minutes left to score and Denker put them in position to do so. He didn't manage the clock well, but it was about the big picture.
Arizona didn't play with a sense of urgency, and seemingly the gameplan didn't allow them to. Carey put up 132 yards on 26 carries, and the receivers made their catches.
But where was the utilization of backup running back Daniel Jenkins? What exactly was the offensive identity other than using a predictable zone read.
Most importantly, why did the defense look so vanilla? Halliday didn't want to run, so with his offensive line abusing the few UA defensive lineman, WSU sat back and forced UA's eight players in coverage to cover for upwards of 10 seconds on each passing play. That's impossible to do, by the way.
Combine the questionable schemes, but also call miscues part of the big picture. Miller's dropped pass, two missed field goals and a fumble deep in Arizona's own territory did the Wildcats in.