It’s Arizona versus Nevada. The Pac-12 versus the Mountain West.
But there’s also another contest taking place Saturday at University Stadium — one that will likely snatch the most nationwide attention at the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
“I’m gonna keep an eye on him throughout the game,” the nation’s leading rusher, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, says of his counterpart, Nevada running back Stephon Jefferson, the nation’s No. 2 rusher.
“It’s two games within the one, really. I think it’s going to be cool to see what he brings to the table and what kind of running back he is.”
The personable and well-spoken Carey’s outlook on the game within the game is refreshing. But make no mistake, others around him are saying the politically correct things about the showdown for the nation’s top back.
♦ Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez: “They’re not playing against each other. They’re both on offense.”
♦ Arizona quarterback Matt Scott: “Once the game starts, you don’t really think about it until the end. We’re going in there to get the win.”
And while Carey wants to lock up the rushing title, he says his main goal is also to help the Wildcats (7-5) beat the Wolf Pack (7-5). But the sophomore star — a nephew of former Denver Broncos standout receiver and UA alum Vance Johnson — certainly enjoys the limelight. And it’s a limelight that should shine on Carey even more in the future.
The product of Tucson received votes for this year’s Heisman Trophy and will be considered one of the front-runners next season.
“It’s got me really pumped up that people are taking notice of me,” Carey said. “And it just gets me even more pumped up for next season to keep working hard and trying to be the best. Winning a Heisman has always been my dream.”
Carey is off to good start in making a name for himself. As a freshman in 2011, he ran for 425 yards on 91 carries and had a team-high six rushing touchdowns. This season, he really flourished in Rodriguez’s high-scoring, up-tempo offense.
Carey is averaging 146.4 yards a game and is 54 yards ahead of Jefferson for the nation’s best. Carey has rushed for 20 touchdowns and scored another receiving. He also has 288 yards receiving on 33 catches.
Carey went bonkers down the stretch. He had a 366-yard rushing performance in a 56-31 win against Colorado and followed that up with a 204-yard outing in a 34-24 win at Utah. He had 172 in a 41-34 loss to Arizona State in the regular-season finale.
That’s a 247.3 yard average in the Wildcats’ last three games.
“He’s had a great year, and he certainly came on even stronger towards the end when we needed. We were banged up at quarterback and receiver, and I’m really proud of him,” Rodriguez said.
“He runs that way in every game, but he also competes that way in practice, and you like to see a guy who loves football that way to have some success.”
Carey ran that way throughout his prep career at Canyon del Oro High. One of his touchdown runs is a YouTube hit, in which he flips over a defender to get into the end zone.
The play came in a freshman game. But that year he was later moved up to varsity and helped lead Canyon del Oro to the state title game.
As for his YouTube moment, Carey said he prepared for it.
“The whole game, the defense was just attacking my legs,” he said. “So I went into halftime, came out and told my teammates, ‘If they go at my legs again, I think I’m going to flip over them,’ and they just looked at me weird.
“So we were on the goal line, and I saw a dude getting ready to take my legs out, and I just stepped up — and just flipped. At the end, I knew I was too high but I knew how to flip — I’m a flipper — so I stuck the landing and it was a good feeling.”
On Saturday, the game matches a pair of teams that had bigger aspirations flipped during the season. Each suffered a number of tough losses and settled into the middle of their conference standings — Arizona was 4-5 in the Pac-12, and Nevada was 4-4 in the MWC.
Arizona is about a 10-point favorite in the game, having faced a tougher schedule. But Carey says the Wildcats are in no way looking past the Wolf Pack.
“It doesn’t matter what division you come from, it’s a bowl game, and we both made it to this bowl game,” Carey said. “There isn’t anyone we underlook or overlook.”
What looks to be coming, individually, for Carey is an NFL career. But he says he has no plans to leave college early, and the NFL can wait.
Plus, he has a little business to finish with that Heisman Trophy deal.
Still, that’s going to be tough, considering this year’s winner, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, is just a freshman.
“That’s OK,” Carey says with a chuckle, “I’m ready to knock him off. I’m ready to do it next year.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal