Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is the Pac-12’s most celebrated assistant coach, 22 years on the job, a man who absorbs the attention and delivers with never-fail, put-this-in-your-story quotes.
After Saturday’s game at Arizona Stadium, Aliotti showed up dressed in all black and went on and on, for 10 minutes and 23 seconds, which has got to be a record for the defensive coordinator of a losing team.
By comparison, Arizona defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel doesn’t speak to reporters on game day, and rarely any day. Casteel could ring your doorbell and you wouldn’t know him from Beethoven.
But this time Aliotti didn’t fill up the notebooks like he usually does.
“They beat us at the line of scrimmage by winning first down,” he said. “That made second and third down manageable.”
If someone wrote down those words and repeated them, whether in print or on a computer screen, I haven’t been able to find them. The reporters wanted something more dramatic. But this time, the man in black, the man who called out Washington State’s Mike Leach last month and paid a $5,000 fine for doing so, told the story of the game in those 19 words.
It was a defensive coordinator’s code for “Did you watch the game? Did you see what No. 25 did to us?”
Ka’Deem Carey ran the ball on 22 first-down plays Saturday. He gained 83 yards. All else fell into place: quarterback B. J. Denker’s near-perfect performance; receiver Terrence Miller’s career day; the fans storming the field.
Aliotti knew. It all went back to No. 25 on first down.
Carey is an unguided missile. I don’t think he could tell you how he does his work any more than Oprah could. He’s like a bronc rider in the rodeo; he’s not going to go down.
In the fourth quarter, when the Ducks and everyone else in the ABC audience thought the Wildcats might back off, Carey ran the ball on 11 consecutive Arizona plays, and 14 of 15. He didn’t bounce outside and look for daylight. Like Joe Frazier, he went for the body.
The Ducks were done.
On those 11 consecutive runs, Carey gained 6, 3, 2, 0, 3, 1, 3, 4, 5, 0 and 2 yards. One of them was a touchdown. Two more generated first downs, killing the clock, and, it turned out, Oregon’s chances to play in the Rose Bowl.
It is a record, isn’t it? Eleven consecutive rushes by one player? No one keeps those records because no one is asked to do it.
And here’s another record that you won’t find in anyone’s media guide: Carey gained 12 first downs in the game. He kept the chains moving. He kept the Ducks backpedaling.
It became his signature game at Arizona.
I spent a lot of time the other day examining what I consider the 10 top rushing days in Arizona history, and they had a common thread. They either came against bad teams, or in games lost.
They were, at the end of the day, lost statistics.
On Saturday, Ka’Deem dispensed a keeper, beating the Ducks, changing the perception of Arizona football.
A year ago he gained 366 yards against Colorado. The Buffaloes went 1-11. It was like Prince Fielder hitting four home runs against the Astros.
Kenny Cardella gained 200 yards against ASU in 1953, but the Sun Devils were 4-5-1 and Frank Kush wasn’t on the scene yet.
David Eldridge busted loose for 205 yards against UCLA in 1989, but the Bruins, post-Troy Aikman, would go 3-7-1.
Art Luppino zigged and zagged for 228 yards against New Mexico State in 1954, but the Aggies didn’t win a game that season.
Jim Upchurch set a school record with 232 yards against UTEP in 1973, but the Miners went 0-11.
Ontiwaun Carter gained 224 yards against Colorado State in 1994, but the Wildcats lost at home.
Mike Bell ran for 222 yards against Washington in 2003, but the Wildcats went 2-10 and their coach had been fired.
Carey’s 206-yard, 48-carry game against Oregon could change the growth pattern of Arizona football.
Until Saturday, Trung Canidate owned Arizona’s seminal rushing game: 288 yards to beat the Sun Devils in 1998. Canidate was a bolt of lightning, breaking touchdown runs of 80, 66 and 48 yards that night. The kicker: ASU was a losing team, 5-6.
On Saturday, with Canidate in the audience, Carey’s longest run was 20 yards.
In the third quarter, leading 28-9, with the Ducks sensing a momentum change, Carey took the handoff on five consecutive first-down plays. He gained 6, 3, 11, 1 and 9 yards, the latter a clinching touchdown.
Carey wasn’t as lightning bold as Canidate was 15 years ago, he was a charge of dynamite.