Arizona’s bowl game was supposed to be all about the All-American running backs.
That was half true.
Ka’Deem Carey rushed for 169 yards to definitively win the battle of the backs in the Wildcats’ 42-19 romp over Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Tuesday, but the feel-good ending to the season was stuffed with heroes in cardinal and navy.
The offensive MVP award went to quarterback B.J. Denker, freshman Nate Phillips set the record for the bowl game with 193 receiving yards, The Kid’s kid caught the first two touchdown passes of his career, safety Will Parks made the play of the game with a pick-six in the first half … and both lines earned a round of atta-boys, too.
Coach Rich Rodriguez, as he accepted the trophy during the postgame celebration, took the moment to be his own pitchman.
“We think we have a great thing going at the University of Arizona. We’ve got great facilities, a wonderful academic atmosphere, a beautiful campus,” he said.
“And I think if (recruits) get to know my guys, the guys on this team, who wouldn’t want to come play for the University of Arizona right now?”
Rodriguez has now won a bowl game at Arizona the hard way (two touchdowns in the final minute to win the New Mexico Bowl) and the easy way (cruising in the second half against the Eagles), both capping 8-5 seasons that flash a “Ready to Launch” signal for the Wildcats.
“Win or lose, I felt the foundation of our program has been established by the last two senior classes,” Rodriguez said in his postgame interview on 1290-AM (KCUB).
“We think we’re going to keep getting better. Certainly, winning today, and winning how we did, gives us a lot of confidence going into the offseason.”
This is a lot different than the feeling around the program on the night of Nov. 30, when Arizona State throttled the Cats 58-21 and was headed to the Pac-12 championship game. The Sun Devils lost that one, then were upset by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl on Monday night.
About 14 hours later, Arizona was walking off with a bowl trophy. Happy New Year, UA fans.
The game-within-the-game was Carey vs. Boston College’s Andre Williams, who won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back and who was fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
For much of the first half, the competition fizzled. Carey lost a fumble on his first attempt. Williams couldn’t get his 227 pounds into a higher gear.
Carey eventually had a Ka’Deem Carey kind of day. He got his yards. He scored twice.
Williams … not so much.
He rushed 26 times for 75 yards, finishing 100 yards below his season average, always met at the line of scrimmage by a Wildcat or three. Williams’ longest run was 7 yards.
“I think the biggest key for us, defensively, was trying to tackle to tackle him before he got going through the second level,” Rodriguez said in his postgame press conference.
“We wanted to tackle him early and be really physical. Our guys up front held the point pretty good, and on the back end, we tackled well. We got him on the ground quickly and didn’t let him get the big runs.”
Denker, the quarterback who absolutely nobody wanted out of high school, went out on top, completing 17 of 24 passes for 275 yards and two scores, also rushing for 51 yards and a touchdown. Two of his touchdown tosses went to Trey Griffey, certainly a proud moment for his dad, Ken Griffey Jr., who was shooting photographs from the sideline.
Phillips had his best day as a Wildcat with nine catches for 193 yards, eclipsing the bowl record of 191 set by South Carolina’s Sidney Rice in 2005.
Just about the only nervous moment for Arizona came late in the first half. Boston College trailed 7-6, was dominating time of possession and had recovered Phillips’ muffed punt catch at the UA 40. Three plays later, Parks totally changed momentum, using his film study to diagnose a route, cut off a sideline pass and race 69 yards for a score. He was chosen the game’s defensive MVP.
“When I caught it, I was thinking end zone, end zone, end zone,” Parks said on 1290-AM.
“It was pretty crazy. Once I celebrated, I was like, ‘I just changed the game for us.’ But it was a whole defensive effort.”
The all-around effort propels Arizona into an offseason in which the next big question is whether or not Carey jumps to the NFL. After that, Rodriguez is expected to sign his best class at Arizona. And after that, he’ll have to find a quarterback for 2014.
In the meantime, the Cats will enjoy their bowl victory while, correctly, setting their sights higher in years to come.
“I’m really proud of our football team and my seniors. We enjoyed the week but at the same time, we knew the reason we came down here was to win a football game,” Rodriguez said.
“I think it will help in recruiting a little bit. There’s just a positive vibe surrounding our program.”