TUCSON, Ariz. — Ka’Deem Carey looked up at the Arizona Stadium scoreboard and saw that he had rushed for 293 yards and four touchdowns. He turned to the camera and gave a thumbs-up and a nod.
As it turned out, he was just warming up. Carey added his second-biggest run of the day, a 64-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter, to break the Pac-12 single-game rushing record. He finished the game with 366 yards.
What a rush — on a number of levels. Carey’s superlative day was plenty for the Wildcats, who pulled away for a 56-31 win Saturday over visiting Colorado in front of 51,236 fans at homecoming.
Carey’s rushing total and school-record five touchdowns helped Arizona turn what was a competitive game early into a walk in the park. His 366 yards on 25 carries were the most by any player at an FBS school this year.
His 30 points scored were the second most by a UA player ever (Art Luppino had 32 against New Mexico State in 1954). He set a school record with 400 all-purpose yards (Luppino had 359 in 1954).
And seemingly every little kid in Arizona Stadium wanted to get hold of some item of his to take home with them as he walked to the locker room after the game.
In fact, Carey, a local product from Tucson’s Canyon del Oro High, said — wink, wink — he woke up Saturday morning intending to break the school record for rushing yards.
Colorado, now 1-9 overall, may have been the perfect foil, fielding one of college football’s worst defenses.
“I just had a great feeling and wanted to put in my head that I wanted the school record,” Carey said. “I didn’t want to tell anybody that. But that’s what it was when I woke up.”
He had it by the end of the third quarter when he looked up at the big screen and saw that he’d surpassed former UA star Trung Canidate’s 288 yards (1998). He didn’t think anything of the conference record, but he got that too, breaking the record of 357 yards set by Washington State’s Rueben Mayes in 1984.
When told of that record, he gave another thumbs-up. And a smile.
As Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said, Carey “was Ka’Deem once again.”
Strong. Determined. Hard to stop.
“He always runs hard,” Rodriguez said. “He runs as hungry and as angry as any back in the country.”
As fast? Well, probably not. Then again, nobody’s perfect.
Carey, who now has 1,385 yards for the season — moving him into second on the school’s single-season rushing list after starting the day outside the top 10 — did get caught from behind on a few runs. And, yes, he said, he’ll hear about that.
Then again, when you have runs of 71 yards, 64 yards, 46 yards and 30 yards to go along with a couple of 20-yarders, you’re bound to get “walked down” eventually, as Rodriguez said.
“Everybody is going to give me grief for running out of breath,” Carey said with a smile. “Next week I’ll show them it won’t happen again, though.”
On Saturday, it was about enjoying the moment. Arizona was back on top after an embarrassing blowout loss to UCLA last week and is now bowl-eligible with six wins. The Wildcats are 6-4 overall and 3-4 in the Pac-12 South.
“That’s good,” Rodriguez said. “I’m especially happy for our seniors. . . . In sitting down with the seniors (last year when he got the job), everyone to a man was disappointed that everybody else was getting ready for a bowl game but they weren’t.”
Senior receiver Dan Buckner, who had two touchdown receptions on three catches, said it feels “great’’ to be bowl-eligible, although he knows eligibility isn’t a certainty of being invited to a postseason game.
“It’s the best time of your life,” Buckner said. “I love these guys. We’ve been through a lot, coaching changes and things. It feels good to be bowl-eligible with two games to go.”
UA faces Utah next week and hosts Arizona State the following Friday in the season finale.
The Wildcats can thank their running game for what amounted to a super Saturday. It’s something they had hoped to sustain throughout the game to help make up for the absence of senior quarterback Matt Scott, who was out with a concussion. His replacement was B.J. Denker, a juco transfer who made his first Division I start and, well, made the most of it.
Rodriguez said Denker was solid in “making good decisions.” Denker finished 12 for 14 for 136 yards with two TDs (both to Buckner), no interceptions and 44 rushing yards.
The junior quarterback said there was a point when he thought he and Carey would combine for 500 rushing yards. They finished with a combined 410, giving Arizona 438 overall, the eighth most in school history. UA finished with 574 total yards.
“We knew that they were either going to let me run the ball by taking away Ka’Deem or let Ka’Deem run the ball, (but) for some reason they let him run the ball,” Denker said. “That may not have been the smartest thing.’’
“He’s an All-Pac-12 back,” Colorado coach Jon Embree said. “It’s pretty simple. I don’t know where he ranks, but he, Kenjon Barner (Oregon) and Johnathan Franklin (UCLA) are all really good. He fits through tight seams and breaks arm tackles.”
Said Colorado linebacker Derrick Webb: “Carey was able to find our gaps and go a long way. He’s aggressive and explosive on tape and (on Saturday). He can see a gap, burst through it and then it’s off to the races.”
It’s not like many in Tucson haven’t seen it before. Carey rushed for 1,754 yards and 26 touchdowns as a high school senior.
“We are proud of him,” said Dustin Peace, Carey’s high school coach who was on the sidelines Saturday. “Just when you think he’s done something great, he does something like this and sets a conference record. …
“We’re talking about (some of) the all-time greats (O.J) Simpson, (Marcus) Allen, etc.”