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With ‘eyes of an eagle,’ Ka’Deem Carey breaks off more long runs than anyone

Ka'Deem Carey

Identifying the right running lane has been key to Ka’Deem Carey’s success. Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Not only does Arizona Wildcats sophomore Ka’Deem Carey lead the nation in rushing, he leads in another related stat:

Most carries of at least 10 yards.

Carey has gained double-digit yardage on 48 of his 250 carries, and he has only increased the pace of late. He has busted loose for at least 10 yards on 19 of his 51 rushes in the past two games.

The reason: He better understands the blocking, identifying the right holes at the line of scrimmage and then making a decisive move. Coach Rich Rodriguez raved last week about Carey’s vision last week.

Carey credited offensive coordinator and running backs coach Calvin Magee.

“Coach Magee really sat down with the running backs and focused on the cut-back lane,” Carey said.

“The vision is that cut-back lane. After Coach Magee showed where it was going to be, I looked for it more. It helps a lot on the field. It is there. That’s why I am starting to break the 20- to 30-yard runs.”

Speaking of those run of 20-plus yards, Carey also is tied for first nationally in that category. He has 18 such gains, tied with Texas A&M quarterback — and new Heisman front-runner — Johnny Manziel.

“That guy is a magician back there, I swear,” senior center Kyle Quinn said of Carey. “I think he’s got the eyes of an eagle. He can see the lanes forming before they’re even there.”

That’s the point.

Magee’s emphasis to his running back: Give me your first two steps. No matter what the backs see — what they think they see — they have to have their eyes where Magee wants them in relation to the blocking on the play. Follow the intelligent design. Take two steps and then react.

“You have to trust us,” Magee said.

“Ka’Deem, to be honest, we went through spring and he was still kind of freelancing a bit. And then during camp — by studying film over the summer — he started really seeing and being on the same page with what the line is trying to do on run plays.

“And when you understand that, you understand why you can’t just see gaps and what we call ‘take the cheese.’ Don’t take the cheese by seeing holes that aren’t there. Stay disciplined to your reads.”

Carey, who has 570 yards rushing in the past two games, leads the country with an average of 144.1 yards per game. His 48 runs of 10-plus yards are two more than the total of Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch and three more than a pair of Pac-12 backs — Oregon’s Kenjon Barner and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin.

Throw Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor in to the mix, and the league coaches might have to be creative in finding ways to get more than two running backs on the Pac-12 first-team.

“We have played some pretty good backs, especially in this league, but just as far as the amount of carries he has and what he does, he is as good as there is,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said of Carey.

“He is, no question, the guy you have to stop, and it is a tall order to do that. Not many people have even come close.”

Carey said he has been dealing with some minor injuries, but there’s no doubt he’s ready for the Sun Devils this Friday night (8 p.m., ESPN).

“It’s later on in the season; you’re going to have to wear a little bit more tape, especially at the running back position,” he said. “I’m coming to get treatment and feeling better, trying to get 100 percent for this game.”

Carey, from Canyon del Oro High School, considered signing with Arizona State all the way up to the 2011 Signing Day. His hindsight is 20-20 when he reflects on that decision.

“There is nothing better than being a Wildcat at the end of day,” Carey said. “The red and blue fits me more.”

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