The University of Arizona football team graduated the program’s all-time career rushing leader last season. And, while Ka’Deem Carey begins his career in the NFL, the Wildcats are beginning to feel his loss all too often.
Particularly during a couple of the most recent games, when both of the running backs together couldn’t pick up as many yards as Carey used to do week-in and week-out by himself.
The Cats have just two losses this season – and both were contests in which the ground game failed them.
After starting the season by averaging better than 200 rushing yards on a regular basis, Arizona’s run offense sputtered in a 28-26 loss to USC three games ago, and then couldn’t get on track again last week when UCLA beat them in a game in which they set a couple of season marks – but not the kind they wanted. In the 17-7 loss to the Bruins, the Cats hit a new low in points in a single game, and the 255 total yards were the fewest against any opponent this season.
Those two losses have been responsible for the Cats falling to No. 21 in the AP rankings after catapulting from unranked to No. 10 after a huge upset of the then-No. 2 Oregon Ducks.
Against USC, they could muster just 77 total yards on the ground, averaging an anemic 2.7 yards per carry. Against UCLA, that improved just slightly to 80 net yards rushing, but the per-carry was about the same, with an average of 2.6 yards.
That’s something that third-year head coach Rich Rodriguez hasn’t had to deal with the last two years because his featured back was always there to provide the needed yardage on the ground to balance out the offensive attack and help keep the pressure off the quarterback. Carey, a consensus All-American both years he played at Arizona, contributed 100 or more yards each game. Every single game in which he played, like clockwork.
That means he single-handedly ran for more yards than the current backfield was able to put together against USC or UCLA. Against the Trojans, Jared Baker was the top rusher with 43 yards and Terris Jones-Grigbsy took honors against UCLA with 50 yards.
Carey, a local standout from Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson, was something special. He was the nation’s leading rusher as a freshman and the runner-up as a sophomore. In just two years he ran for 4,232 yards to become the school’s all-time career rushing leader, and also set the single-season record with 1,929 yards – despite sitting out the first game of the season.
By the time he left for the pro game, he owned or shared 26 different school records.
Whether or not the running game returns in time for Saturday’s game with Colorado probably won’t be that critical. The Buffaloes (2-7, 0-6) aren’t expected to provide the kind of competition the Wildcats have faced with the California schools.
Besides residing in the Pac-12 cellar, Colorado also struggles mightily with ranked opponents. They have lost the last 17 games against ranked teams and their last nine games against conference schools.
And they have the worst run defense in the conference, allowing just shy of 200 yards a game so far this season.
About the only thing they have going for them coming into this game is the date. Colorado has won the last four years in games played on Nov. 8.
Whichever way this game goes, one thing is pretty much assured: it will seem like it goes quickly. Both teams run about 85 plays a game and pile up more than 27 first downs. Colorado is a pass-happy attack behind sophomore QB Sefo Liufau, but balances it out with a solid running game; five players have 20 or more receptions and five players have logged 48 or more carries.
It will be a busy day for Arizona’s defense.
But it will be the running game that gets the most scrutiny, as fans eagerly await its re-emergence.