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Arizona Wildcats running back Ka’Deem Carey: ‘I just feel like me’ again

Ka'Deem Carey coasts for the second of two first-half touchdowns at UNLV. Photo by Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Ka’Deem Carey coasts for the second of two first-half touchdowns at UNLV. Photo by Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Now, it’s just Ka’Deem and football.

Arizona Wildcats junior Ka’Deem Carey can get back to showing his All-American running skills, chasing school and national records, and trying to lead the team back to the postseason.

No more drama. No more wondering how deep he was in coach Rich Rodriguez’s doghouse after offseason problems.

“Just stepping on the field, I forget that even happened,” Carey said after Tuesday’s practice.

“My teammates remind me to keep moving forward, and we literally just forgot about everything and went out and played ball last Saturday. … When I step on the field, I just feel like me.”

Carey, who was suspended for the season opener, returned to live football for the first time since the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday, playing in Arizona’s 58-13 win at UNLV. He stepped right in and had the 10th-best rushing performance of this young college football season: 171 yards on 16 carries.

The coaches didn’t let him get tackled through spring and fall camps, so this was the first time he had a chance to wake up with a sore body.

“I feel great,” he said.

“The line did a good job of opening up holes. I was hardly touched out there. I came out really healthy. I was really surprised. I feel like it’s going to be a good year because of that.”

Maybe even great. Again.

“I thought he played pretty well,” Rodriguez said of Carey’s first game.

“He always runs hard, and that’s one of his great attributes. He made the right cuts, made the right reads. In a little bit of protection, he was good, too.”

What’s next?

–Can Carey become the second Arizona player to lead the nation in the rushing in consecutive seasons? Art Luppino did it in 1954 and ’55. Carey averaged 148.38 yards per game last season.

–Can Carey become the school’s career rushing leader in three seasons? He has 2,525 yards, trailing Trung Canidate by 1,299 yards.

–Can he catch Luppino for most rushing touchdowns in a UA career? Carey is up to 31, needing 14 to pass Luppino.

He’ll achieve all those things (and more) if he approaches what his past five games have been like: 1,085 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Five games. His worst effort in that span was the 171 yards against the Rebels.

“I don’t pay attention to the numbers,” Carey said. “This football game is what I love to do. When I step on the field, everything is going to come.”

Carey played about half the game against UNLV, entering late in the first quarter as Rodriguez gave the start to senior Daniel Jenkins, who rushed for 139 yards in the opener vs. NAU. Carey didn’t play in the fourth quarter as the Cats turned to reserves the finish off the rout.

Carey will be back in a full role Saturday night, although Jenkins is expected to have a greater impact on the offense than he did last season when he rushed 67 times for 293 yards. Arizona will use more two-back sets, or single-back sets with one of them in the slot.

“We call it Thunder and Lightning right there,” Carey said. “I come with the boom, he comes with the speed.”

Compiling those big numbers on the ground likely won’t come as easily this season because defenses, so far, aren’t scared of Arizona’s passing game, unlike last year when quarterback Matt Scott was a balancing threat to Carey.

The strategy: Load the box with defenders and dare B.J. Denker and Arizona’s young receivers to beat man coverage deep. Hasn’t stopped the UA ground game so far. Arizona is sixth nationally in rushing, averaging 351.5 yards per game, but way tougher opponents and closer games await.

“We’re not scared when you put eight, nine in the box,” Carey said. “We’re going to run the ball and pound it down your throat. Let’s go. Let’s play big-boy football.”

Now, that’s exactly what Carey can do again.

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