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Ka’Deem Carey vs. Stefphon Jefferson: The game within the game

Ka’Deem Carey and Stefphon Jefferson met at an event for the teams in Albuquerque on Wednesday night. Photo via @ArizonaFBall

There should be ample points scored when Arizona plays Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl, but it might be just as fun counting rushing yards.

Yep, you know the subplot by now:

The Wildcats’ Ka’Deem Carey leads the nation with an average of 146.4 rushing yards per game, trying to become the second UA player to be a national rushing champ (Art Luppino was in 1954 and 1955).

The Wolf Pack’s Stefphon Jefferson is second nationally, trailing Carey by 54 yards.

“It’s going to be show time between me and him,” Carey said.

“There’s the game, and then it’s me vs. him. I think it’s two games in one.”

Should be fun.

Whichever player emerges as the leader after Saturday’s game figures to have a significant lead on the rest of the field and will be the probable rushing champ.

Carey, in talking about the head-to-head matchup last week, said:

“I think the coaches are ready for this. Me and Coach had a conversation. We are going to go after it.”

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez wasn’t biting.

I asked if there would be a way for him to know the rushing totals late in the game.

“Nah. I wouldn’t pay attention to it,” he said.

“Is it important for Ka’Deem to be the leading rusher in the country? Yeah, because it helps us win. But that’s not going to be one thought whatsoever in what we do, what plays we call.”

Both players have emerged this season. Jefferson, a junior, ran only 70 times for 429 yards last season. Carey had 91 rushes for 425 yards.

“He’s a good player. He looks like Ka’Deem,” Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer said of Jefferson. “He runs hard. He finds creases you don’t think are in the defense. We have our hands full.”

The Wildcats have not been good about stopping the run, allowing 189.75 yards per game. The Pack has been worse, yielding 213.7 yards per game, a figure made worse after facing the all-the-time ground games of Air Force and New Mexico, which combined to attempt nine passes against Nevada.

Arizona has about a 50-50 split, running 508 times and attempting 491 passes. Carey surged late in the season, rushing for 742 yards in the last three games.

The few weeks since Arizona lost its regular-season finale has turned into a near-daily stream of Carey news. First-team All-Pac-12. All-American. Consensus All-American.

“They spread you out and they just let him work in between the tackles,” Nevada safety Duke Williams said in the Reno Gazette-Journal, our Gannett partner.

“He’s good on his feet and he has a lot of moves in the open field. That’s how he gets his yards. He has a lot of plays where he just busts open 50- or 60-yard runs where he makes guys miss. He’s a really good running back. If we tackle well and keep him contained, we’ll have a better chance to win the game.”

Winning, of course, is the ultimate goal but the game-within-the-game is on many minds.

“We’re going to have to make Ka’Deem look good by shutting him down,” Arizona safety Jared Tevis said of Jefferson. “I told Ka’Deem that. That’s the goal.”

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