Arizona Wildcats football coach Mike Stoops wants a better running game and a stronger commitment to it.
That’s nice, but there are a couple of problems with that.
His team spent camp under the philosophy of “we’ll pass 50 to 60 times a game if we have to,” so it might be getting a little late to change tack. And the inexperienced offensive line has been better in pass protection than run blocking, anyway.
There isn’t any sort of magic that can accelerate the learning curve of the offensive line. There isn’t any major personnel moves to make up front. Just add time and wait. Hopefully, not too long.
But Stoops can do something at running back. He says he will. He should.
Stoops says he will play true freshman running back Ka’Deem Carey earlier in the game, starting this week against Stanford. Clearly, the coaches have a high level of trust in senior starter Keola Antolin. He knows what to do. He’s not big, but he runs hard. He’s good at catching passes out of the backfield.
But if there is not a running lane there, Antolin doesn’t the have the wiggle to make something out of nothing. And so far, there has been a whole lot of nothing in the running game. Antolin has 63 yards on 19 rushes.
This is where Carey comes in.
He has rushed 15 times for 78 yards, appearing only in the fourth quarter of games against NAU and Oklahoma State. That’s been enough to make most everyone want to see more.
“We have to get him more touches for sure,” Stoops said Monday. “Ka’Deem is another player who we feel is worthy of helping us become a better football team.
“We have to force it,” Stoops continued, talking about getting Carey into games earlier. “He’s too good of a player. He can run and make something happen for us. We have to get playmakers in there and give him an opportunity to see what he can do.”
Sounds good to Carey, who was the centerpiece of the most recent recruiting class after a stellar career at Canyon del Oro High School.
“I just love running the football,” he said.
“But in this league you have to be an all-around player. Just picking up the blitz is the main key to me. They came at you a hundred miles per hour. But I think it’s coming along well. I’ve been out there, putting in extra time learning to pick up the blitz.”
Stoops isn’t naturally inclined to pump up his own players in the press. He’ll give short comments, minus any hyperbole, if asked about a player who isn’t setting the football field a-fire. He hasn’t been that way with Carey.
Asked about Carey last week, Stoops said:
“He’s going to be a good one. He’s legit.”
The coach added: “He has that unique ability to make people miss and not let people get a clean shot on him. He has a chance.”
The chances of him making a mistake in blocking or in not picking up a check at the line of scrimmage are greater than they would be for Antolin, but so are the chances of something big happening.
“He’s a good player because of his athletic ability right now, but that only goes so far in college football,” said running backs coach Garret Chachere. “There are some things about being a freshman that he’s not going to get better at until he gets out there and experiences the situation.”
Carey says he knows this from two games of experience:
“The game is fast, and you have to play with heart. Every time you step out onto that football field, you have to play at full speed. I’m going to give it all I’ve got. If I end up a playmaker, I end up a playmaker.”
And maybe not just in the fourth quarter.