Wild­cats’ Dawkins redeems him­self in a rout of UTEP

The Arizona Republic - - SPORTS - MICHAEL LEV

EL PASO – Bran­don Dawkins si­lenced his crit­ics for at least one night.

The Ari­zona quar­ter­back, whose mis­cues had Wild­cats fans in an up­roar all week, turned in per­haps the best per­for­mance of his ca­reer Fri­day at UTEP.

Dawkins ac­counted for six touch­downs as the Wild­cats drubbed the over­matched Min­ers 63-16 in front of an an­nounced crowd of 22,133 at the Sun Bowl.

Af­ter strug­gling in a heart­break­ing loss to Hous­ton, Dawkins au­thored the com­plete game his de­trac­tors have been seek­ing since he took over as the starter last sea­son.

“He showed me the com­peti­tor that I al­ways thought he was,” UA coach Rich Ro­driguez said. “That’s the one thing about Bran­don. I’ve al­ways said he’s a com­pet­i­tive guy. It’s im­por­tant to him – prob­a­bly more than he lets on at times.

“He saw that there’s so much spot­light on that po­si­tion, which is nat­u­ral. Guys that play that po­si­tion know that. He prob­a­bly heard it quite a bit. That’s OK if it fu­eled him. You could tell he was real se­ri­ous.”

Dawkins com­pleted 18 of 21 passes for 155 yards. He rushed for 133 yards on 14 car­ries. His 86 per­cent com­ple­tion rate, three TD passes and six to­tal touch­downs were all ca­reer bests.

“Was it six?” Dawkins asked sheep­ishly af­ter­ward. “It was fun.”

As for the no­tion that Dawkins re­deemed him­self un­der the Fri­day night lights, he didn’t see it that way.

“Foot­ball’s not a one-week game,” he said. “We’ve got mul­ti­ple weeks to get bet­ter. I’m far from my peak, so I’m just try­ing to get there.”

Team­mates said they saw a dif­fer­ent Dawkins this week. Cor­ner­back Jace Whit­taker could see it in Dawkins’ ex­pres­sions and his de­meanor.

“He proved a lot to ev­ery­body,” Whit­taker said. “I know ev­ery­body had a lot of bad things to say about him, but the guy works hard. He’s go­ing to con­tinue to work hard.”

Of course, in the what-have-youdone-for-me-lately world of col­lege foot­ball, Dawkins will be tasked with do­ing it again next week against Utah. The Utes have been one of the bet­ter teams in the Pac-12 since they joined the con­fer­ence. UTEP (0-3) is among the worst teams in the na­tion.

Dawkins can’t do it alone. His team­mates pro­vided him with the sort of sup­port Ari­zona (2-1) will need to con­tend for a bowl bid.

Like Dawkins, Shun Brown con­verted the plays that lit­er­ally slipped through his fin­ger­tips in last week’s loss to Hous­ton.

Dawkins’ sec­ond touch­down pass came on a 36-yard strike to Brown in the sec­ond quar­ter. The play mir­rored the seam-route pass they couldn’t com­plete at the end of the Hous­ton game.

Brown then turned in the high­light play of the night – a 63-yard punt re­turn for a touch­down with 5:34 left in the first half. Brown started up the mid­dle, then veered left. A killer spin move near the side­line sent two pur­su­ing Min­ers stum­bling to the turf.

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