Riding a roller coaster: UA football rocks Huskies, 52-17

The Arizona Wildcats continued their roller-coaster ride through the 2012 football season with a solid win over Washington that halted a three-game skid that followed on the heels of a 3-0 start.

But one constant to this season has been the play of local favorite, Ka’Deem Carey.  The sophomore running back from Tucson’s Canyon del Oro High School posted a season-best 172 yards rushing, putting in a workhorse night of 29 carries to lead the Cats to a 52-17 win in Arizona Stadium.

Carey is fulfilling expectations for this season, following his freshman campaign in which he finished as the second most prolific runner on the squad with 425 yards on 91 carries.

Arizona started the season with three straight wins, but hit a wide rough patch in the road when they entered conference play and lost the next three.  The win against Washington (3-4, 1-3) puts the Cats back in the plus column again with a 4-3 overall record, but still deep down in the conference rankings since this is their first Pac-12 victory in four tries.

But even through the last three losses, Carey was one of the bright spots in the disappointments that had knocked the Arizona train, and its new head coach Rich Rodriguez, off its tracks.

The week before, Carey rushed for 132 yards on 29 carries in an overtime loss against Stanford, and the game before that he picked up 115 in losing to Oregon State by three.  And in the game that started the skid, a 49-0 blow-out by No. 3 Oregon, he still managed to get his 100+ yards, although he had to pick up part of it on receptions.  He gained 79 yards on the ground, but added four receptions that took his total to 116 yards.

If his first name was Eddie, we could nickname him Steady Eddie.  But it’s a little harder to rhyme Ka’Deem.

But, aside from being consistent, he is fun to watch.  “Every night the game plan is to set up fast and go.  I hit the wheels and take off,” he explained after last night’s game.

His coach says he “runs hungry.”  Rodriguez evaluated his game last night: “Washington hit him pretty good, but he kept going.  He only needs a little crease and he breaks a lot of tackles.”

The youngster is only going to get better and has two more years to mature, get more comfortable with the new offensive system Rodriguez brought with him to Tucson, and get stronger physically.  Unfortunately, the strength and conditioning staff can’t do much to improve his 5’10” vertical dimensions (they generously list him at that height), but they have packed 200 pounds of muscle onto that frame to help Carey sustain the hits he takes in his new role as the team’s leading back.

But he has been well prepared for the rigors of the job, carrying the work load for years at Canyon del Oro.  His coach there didn’t hesitate to use him generously as the Dorados went undefeated and won a state title in his junior year.  He ran the ball 224 times for 2,738 yard and 45 touchdowns – and then came back as a senior to add another 1,754 yards, even though he had become the focus of every defensive scheme they faced that year.

A bye week certainly gave Carey a chance to catch his breath before being called upon against Washington.  And it gave the coaching staff a chance to re-group.

Rodriguez was pleased with the results.  “We gave great effort in all three phases, for all four quarters,” he said following the Washington win.  “That’s the first time we’ve done that all year.  We played really hard and we put it all together.”

The bye week also gave the team a chance to heal mentally and get over the psychological hump that comes with three straight losses, two of which could easily have been put into the win column.  They lost the Oregon State game, 38-35, on a TD pass in the final minute-plus and played Stanford to overtime after the Cardinal overcame a 14-point deficit to tie the game with 45 seconds left and force the extra period and go on to win, 54-48.

Last night showed they’ve moved past the disappointments and appear ready to start over again.  Senior quarterback Matt Scott, who set Pac-12 records for pass attempts and completions while piling up 491 yards against Stanford, passed for 256 yards last night and piled up a career-high four touchdowns in the air.  And then added 43 yards with his feet.

It was also a chance for his receivers to have a big night.  Dan Buckner and Austin Hill gave the Huskies’ secondary fits.  Buckner pulled down five Scott passes for 86 yards and Hill pulled in a couple for 70 more yards as the Cats’ offense racked up 533 yards of total offense.

And give credit to the defense, which had a season-high performance in the Huskies’ backfield, led by Reggie Gilbert, a defensive lineman from Betty Fairfax High School in Laveen.  The sophomore recorded 1.5 sacks as the defensive unit accumulated four on the night.

The Cats have also had a little extra time to get healthy.  A roster this year that doesn’t really have a lot of depth has been even thinner lately.  Four starters didn’t even make the trip to Stanford, and another handful fell to injury in that game as Rodriguez played 58 different players.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is the roller coaster may be ready for another dip as the Cats prepare for next week’s game when they play host to USC.

“We’ll enjoy this one for 24 hours and then move on because we have a big one next week,” Rodriguez said last night.

Actually, it’s one of the biggest games on the schedule.  The Trojans are 6-1 on the season, ranked No. 11 in the nation, and coming off a 50-6 win over Colorado last night.

The team appears ready.  So fans… Please return your seat bar to its locked position as the roller coaster ride resumes.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)