Ka'Deem Carey (Fr. RB) just might be ready for a breakout game, and there's not a better time for the Arizona Wildcats to find a playmaker than Saturday, when UA faces Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore.
Sure, Carey only has accounted for 185 rushing yards through five games on an Arizona squad with a disappointing 1-4 record. Maybe he is only the No. 2 running back behind senior Keola Antolin. But as Carey's touches have mounted in the run game, passing attack and on special teams, the more comfortable he's become in his transition to Division I football.
We knew all along he needed to see an increased role. Head coach Mike Stoops was weary that Carey wasn't up to speed in his pass-blocking abilities early in the season, and that was the reason why he was listed behind players like Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler on the depth charts during the first few weeks of the season.
But it was also clear the Wildcats needed a playmaker at running back. Carey is no gimmick; he's a true running back in every sense of the word. He showed that last Saturday, scoring three touchdowns against the USC Trojans on 79 total yards (45 receiving, 34 rushing).
By playing a role in the kick return game and slowly being worked into a developing offense, Carey easily leads the team in total yards, accounting for 612 all-purpose yards on the season. Antolin is second with 366 yards through five contests, and while 369 of Carey's bulk yardage came by way of returning kicks, that's just more experience in learning the speed of college football.
So why shouldn't tomorrows Oregon State game be his coming-out party?
In the Pac-12 Conference, the Beavers give up the third-most opponent points, and their front seven (like Arizona's) isn't necessarily winning in the experience department. Five defensive linemen and two linebackers have made their first starts this season, while four linebackers who have seen playing time are true freshmen, according to the OSU media department.
That's good news for an Arizona offense that's shown quality growth in the past two weeks.
Arizona's offensive line has matured and more use of H-backs and tight ends have evolved, the Wildcat run game has improved immensely. Much of that had to do with coaches' trust: Should they be willing to give more than 20 touches to Antolin and Carey on a given night?
Of course they should. And it became every-more obvious that it'd need to happen if the Wildcats could score rather than rack up 400-plus yards and have nothing to show for it.
Carey, more than Antolin, will be the benefactor in that development.
He's more than a change-of-pace guy. He's former Wildcat running back Nic Grigsby but with more pure power. Yeah, he's shifty and fast with a penchant for making plays when he's got some open field in front of him, but this is what makes him scary:
He doesn't really need much production out of his line to gain yardage.
As he gains more comfort -- again, his total number of touches really plays into "experience" -- Carey will learn that he really can get hit at the line, drop his shoulder, and gain three or four yards most of the time. Just wait until he realizes that.
For now, Carey has said many-a-time that he's just happy to do whatever is asked of him. But at some point, it's going to become apparent that he's not a system running back like Antolin and fellow little guys Jenkins and Butler. He's going to be a go-to, "can't take me off the field" type of back.
Against a weak and struggling Oregon State defense, Carey just might break out as the Canyon Del Oro star that Tucsonans read about for the past two seasons. The foreshadowing is there for that to happen.
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