Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez freely admits there have been moments dating back to the start of training camp when he has been frustrated with starting quarterback B.J. Denker and his lack of efficiency and productivity in the passing game.
Denker's passing statistics are south of impressive, especially in a conference with a Heisman Trophy frontrunner and five of the nation's top-20 passers at the position.
But Denker, a senior lefty, appears to be making some progress at the halfway point of the season just in time for a trip to Boulder to face the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday night at Folsom Field (6:07 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
"I saw toward the end of the USC game his confidence was growing and just trusting the footwork and the timing and the plays itself," Rodriguez said. "There was a few times (against Utah) where a little hesitation came back out. I hope he's getting more confidence not just in himself but also in the guys around him."
Two weeks ago, Denker nearly led the Wildcats to a come-from-behind win over USC by completing 28 of 44 passes for 363 yards and four touchdown passes. While he's still shy of 1,000 yards passing for the season, that kind of production against a USC defense has eyes wide open in the defensive meeting rooms in the Dal Ward Center this week.
CU is also mindful of Denker's ability to make plays on the ground, contributing to the Pac-12's second best rushing offense.
"In what they ask him to do, he's really good at it," CU coach Mike MacIntyre said. "He can really run. He made a play against Washington where he hurdled a guy and then outran the whole team to the 1-yard line. That was a spectacular play. I haven't seen many quarterbacks that can do what he did running the ball-wise. Then he is very accurate on the run as a thrower, which is hard to do."
Denker played against the Buffs last season when former Wildcats' start Matt Scott was hurt. Denker was overshadowed in that game by running back Ka'Deem Carey setting the single-game Pac-12 rushing record against the Buffs with 366 yards and five touchdowns.
Denker did some damage, too, with two touchdown passes and a touchdown run in a 56-31 rout in Tucson.
"This quarterback is a freakish athlete," CU defensive end De'Jon Wilson said. "He's probably one of the greatest quarterbacks we've seen. I don't know how he's overlooked (in the Pac-12). He's quick. He releases the ball fast. When he does the zone-read, he'll give you a double move. He's a great athlete at quarterback.
"We've got to contain him, make him feel uncomfortable and put pressure on him."
CU senior Chidera Uzo-Diribe didn't blink in saying Denker might be the most athletic quarterback the Buffs will face this season. This is a team that has already seen Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the aforementioned Heisman contender.
Senior safety Parker Orms said Denker brings the potential for more moments of frustration for CU defenders if they're not assignment sound and sure tacklers.
"I remember that he could run the ball and that he has a quick release so you've got to be on your guy," Orms said.
Denker has completed 91 of 164 passes this season for 976 yards and seven touchdowns. But he has only thrown two interceptions this fall and he's the second leading rusher on a team with an All-American at tailback. Denker is averaging 4.4 yards a carry and leads the Wildcats with eight touchdown runs.
Rodriguez has seen teams load up against the run wanting to force Denker to beat them with his arm and he has no reason to believe the Buffs won't do the same.
"We have to be able to throw the ball effectively," Rodriguez said.