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Arizona Wildcats’ Ka’Deem Carey: Better now after his All-American season

Ka'Deem Carey did find some occasional daylight against USC last week. Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Ka’Deem Carey did find some occasional daylight against USC last week. Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve seen the midseason All-America team from USA Today. And the one from CBSSports.com. And ESPN.com. SI.com, too.

No Ka’Deem Carey.

I found seven college football midseason All-America teams from NFL.com, one from each of their College Football 24/7 writers.

One of the writers picked Carey.

This is not a gripe that the Arizona Wildcats running back — a returning consensus All-American and the nation’s leading rusher last season — is being overlooked as a junior. Plenty of others are having honors-worthy seasons. Washington’s Bishop Sankey. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk. Good for them.

Others might have flashier numbers or play on better teams, but there’s also no doubt in my mind that Carey, for as good, as dynamic, as prolific, as he was a year ago is a whole lot better this season.

You could make the case that he was, a bit, a product of the system last season, taking advantage of the wide-open spaces created when coach Rich Rodriguez’s read-option offense has a star quarterback (Matt Scott) and a star receiver (Austin Hill).

But defenses this season no longer have to truly defend the whole field against the Wildcats. Carey is earning every inch on every carry against defenses that only have eyes for No. 25. (And he’s still fourth in the nation in rushing at 142.3 yards per game.)

If the max possible on a play is four yards, he’s getting four yards. If it’s only two yards, he’s getting those two damn yards, legs churning, always fighting. Carey’s runs are NFL runs, fearless into the teeth of the enemy.

“I can’t do a lot of dancing, because they’re flying after me,” Carey said.

“It’s hard-nosed football and just running it down their mouth. Now, don’t give me that open lane, because then I’m going to shake you and then I’ll be like, ‘Give me some room.’ But until I get some room, I’m downhill.”

Carey had those one-cut-and-go opportunities last season. Now, it’s one-cut-and-run-into-a-defender.

He led the nation last season in runs of 20-plus yards. He had 23, one every 13.2 carries.

He has only three such runs this season, one every 31.3 carries.

Every time, though, he says he thinks this is the one.

“Defenses have been smart. They’re not giving me that lane,” Carey said. “But that’s OK. It’s going to come. Patience is a virtue and I know it’s going to come.”

Defenses have been waiting for Ka'Deem Carey this season. Photo by Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Defenses have been waiting for Ka’Deem Carey this season. Photo by Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it will come Saturday night against Utah (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).

“He did a number on us,” said Utes coach Kyle Whittingham, referring to Carey’s 204 rushing yards against his team last season.

“He’s a powerful kid — not the tallest kid in the world, but he’s about 210 pounds, extremely explosive, great vision, and great quickness.”

Carey (5-10, 207) is about 10 pounds heavier than last season. Offseason weight training paid off.

He can handle the workload; he has touched the ball 90 times in the past three games, including 12 on receptions. He can handle the punishment, in part because he often delivers the punishment.

“I love to play that way,” he said. “I love to punish teams because they’re out to punish me. So why accept the hit when I can deliver the hit?”

Carey has rushed for at least 128 yards in each of his past eight games. He had his streak of a scoring at least one rushing touchdown end at 12 last week at USC.

He has been so consistently excellent that when he ran for 138 yards on 21 carries and caught six passes for 36 yards against the Trojans, NFL.com ran an analysis with the headline, “Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey puts up yards but isn’t a factor vs. USC.”

Yeah. That’s 176 total yards. Ho-hum. Just another day for Carey.

Not a factor? Everything revolves around him. Carey will not only continue to get his yards, but he gives the inexperienced Arizona passing game a chance by forcing defenses into a lot of man coverage.

The Arizona air attack got cranked up against USC, especially in the second half, which was encouraging. Was it enough to make defenses back off of Carey? Wishful thinking.

We’ll have to wait until the end of the season to see if Carey puts up the raw numbers needed to repeat as an All-American, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a running back more valuable.

“He runs so dang hard. Just the way he runs the ball in there, it makes me and, I think, our players want to be better,” said offensive line coach Jim Michalczik.

“If we can give him a little bit more (room), he’s going to get a lot more. We have that faith in him. His play makes everyone want to rise up around him.”

Here’s the impressive part of what Carey is doing this season: Despite the lack of long runs as teams drop extra defenders into the box, he is averaging a healthy 6.1 yards per carry.

He averaged 6.4 last season when he didn’t have to run into a stacked defense on every play.

He’s simply better this year. He’s maxing out every run and is hungry for more. Sounds like an All-American.

“I feel like I have not had a great game,” Carey said. “There’s just a lot to prove. I haven’t proven nothing yet, at all, whatsoever.”

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