ALBUQUERQUE - Ka'Deem Carey will walk into the University Stadium locker room Saturday morning, sit in front of his locker and seethe.
The transformation will begin.
During the two hours before every football game, Carey morphs from the mild-mannered, smiling face of the UA's resurgent program to something otherworldly.
"It's like I turn into The Hulk or something," he said. "I drink a little 5-hour Energy, and it's just like, 'Ahhhh!' … I go into beast mode. I get mad at the other team for showing up."
Then, Carey will speak.
I'm going to put some mileage on these legs today! Nobody comes here and tries to take us on. Ride me, boys. I've got this.
"It's a rah-rah speech, and coming from Ka'Deem, you laugh at first," linebacker Marquis Flowers said.
"But then you know he's serious. He goes out there and 'puts on' for the whole team. We know we're going to have to go out there and match his effort, match his intensity."
No player means more to the UA, on and off the field, than Carey. And Arizona's New Mexico Bowl chances will hinge on how well he plays.
The UA (7-5) will take on Nevada (7-5) on Saturday with both a bowl win and rushing title on the line. Carey, a consensus All-American, leads the nation with 146.42 yards per game. He's second in total yards to Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch (1,771-1,757).
Nevada tailback Stefphon Jefferson trails Carey by 54 total yards and 4 1/2 yards per game; by outplaying his UA counterpart Saturday, Jefferson can make Wolf Pack history.
Carey calls the showdown "the game within the game."
"There's the game, and then there's me-versus-him," Carey said. "It's going to be a showdown between me and him."
Which means one thing: Carey will try to crush him.
No player on the UA roster takes competition more seriously. Quarterback Matt Scott's eyes widened as he described Carey's game-day routine. By the time Carey starts to talk, "he's shaking," Scott said.
There's a reason, and it's not the 5-hour Energy.
Carey's position and his importance - the most visible player on one of the nation's top offenses - means he's often targeted in games. The 5-foot-10-inch, 197-pound Carey plays bigger; he "runs angry," coaches say, because he's getting chased.
"It's me versus you," said Carey, a Canyon del Oro High School product. "If you want to knock my head off, I take that (personally). You have to look at it like this: You're taking the beating to them instead of receiving the beating."
Carey's unsure where the fire comes from, except that his sister, Nadi, shares it. The Carey siblings both abhor losing, whether it's pickup basketball - Nadi played at Pima College - or in simple footraces.
Similarly, Carey doesn't want to lose the rushing race.
That's why Saturday could get sticky. The Wildcats want Carey to win the rushing crown but say they won't risk losing the game to do so. Coach Rich Rodriguez says his team's success will come first; fortunately, more Carey is typically better for everybody.
"It's important for Ka'Deem to be the No. 1 rusher in the country because it helps us win," he said. "That's not going to be one thought whatsoever in terms of what we do and what plays we call."
Carey said last week that he had, in fact, talked to coaches about the importance of winning the title.
No matter. Arizona's most driven player figures to win, again.
"When you don't want to lose," he said, "you fight that much harder."
• Arizona's John Bonano, Kyle Dugandzic and Justin Samuels visited the UNM Children's Hospital on Thursday, continuing a tradition that the three started in Tucson earlier this year. Once there, the Wildcats encountered a little boy wearing a Tom Brady jersey. When they asked if he liked ex-UA quarterback Nick Foles, now with the Eagles, the boy shook his head no. They laughed.
• The Wildcats will wear red helmets, navy jerseys and red pants against Nevada on Saturday, the first time the program's ever worn that combination. Nevada figures to wear its navy helmets, white jerseys and white pants.
• Carey said Saturday that he's committed to finishing his college career at the UA - whatever that means.
When asked whether that meant he would be staying all four years, and not declaring for the NFL draft, the sophomore smiled. NFL rules prohibit him from leaving for the draft until after the 2013 season, anyway.
"I'm going to do what's best for me," he said.
On StarNet: Follow the Cats on Ryan Finley's blog at azstarnet.com/finley
New Mexico Bowl
• Who: Arizona vs. Nevada
• When: 11 a.m. Saturday
• TV: ESPN
• Radio: 1290-AM, 1490-AM, 104.9-FM, 107.5-FM
The Rodriguez report
UA coach Rich Rodriguez's report for Saturday's New Mexico Bowl game against Nevada:
• Out: LB Hank Hobson (neck)
• Doubtful: None
• Questionable: S Tra'Mayne Bondurant (ankle)
• Probable: DE Dominique Austin (foot), WR Dan Buckner (ankle)
• OG Trace Biskin, QB Matt Scott, C Kyle Quinn, LB Jake Fischer