Ka’Deem Carey set the Pac-12 Conference’s single-game rushing record, backup quarterback B.J. Denker proved to be a solid steward, and the Arizona Wildcats are bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
As Homecomings go, yes, Arizona’s 56-31 win over Colorado today was an unmitigated success.
Carey rushed for 366 yards and five touchdowns in a little over three quarters’ worth of action in the blowout win, held in front of 51,236 at Arizona Stadium. When he wasn’t running wild, Denker — a spot starter for the injured Matt Scott — was cutting up a beleaguered Buffaloes defense. Denker completed 12 of 14 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start; the junior college transfer also ran nine times for 44 yards and a score.
Arizona led 28-17 at halftime and 49-17 at the end of the third quarter. The Buffaloes tried to control the clock, but couldn’t stop the Wildcats — and Carey.
The tailback’s 71-yard gallop late in the third quarter set the school record; former Wildcat Trung Canidate ran for 288 in a 1998 game.
“Ka’Deem runs as hard and as angry as any running back in the country," UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We did a good job up front today for him but he’s in great shape and he can take some of those hits. He always has really good vision but today you could see it with some of those cutbacks he had."
Carey’s 64-yard dash early in the fourth quarter set the Pac-12 mark. One play later, Carey dove in his fifth— and final — touchdown. He broke the single-game touchdown mark set by Art Luppino, the UA’s famed “Cactus Comet” and arguably the greatest player in program history.
Carey said he was tired — but thrilled.
“When you go from long run to long run and your linemen are really happy," Carey said, "you know you must be doing something right."
Saturday’s victory made Arizona (6-4 overall, 3-4 Pac-12) bowl eligible for the third time in four seasons. The Wildcats can improve their bowl destination by winning either of their remaining regular season games; the UA travels to Utah next week before finishing against Arizona State in Tucson.
By then, the UA could have starting Scott back. Scott, guard Chris Putton and safety Jourdon Grandon all watched the game from the home sideline in street clothes. The same went for linebacker Hank Hobson, who suffered a nerve injury in his neck and is out indefinitely.
Denker's first — and only — mistake came on the UA’s first offensive play.
Arizona had the ball at its own 10 when Denker and tailback Carey muffed their exchange on a handoff. The Buffaloes recovered at the Wildcats’ 7; Christian Powell took the ball in for a score on their next play, giving the visitors a 7-0 lead.
Arizona struck back: Denker led a 9-play, 80-yard scoring drive against the Pac-12’s most porous defense. Carey capped it with a 10-yard touchdown run, his first.
Carey rushed 12 times for 121 yards and three scores in the first half.
"We knew they were either going to let me run the ball or they were going to let Ka’Deem run the ball,” Denker said. “For some reason they let Ka’Deem run the ball. It’s not a smart move. …
“I had the best seat in the house. And I had the best time handing the ball off and watching him work.”
Colorado falls to 1-9 overall and 1-6 in conference play.