Arizona carries lethal run game to test Cal football at Memorial Stadium

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Ka’Deem Carey is a candidate for the Heisman Trophy this year, but his status is still that of a dark horse.

Arizona wants to change that.

Recently, the Wildcats unveiled a new component of their official athletic site devoted to all things “Team Ka’Deem.” The site is pure promotion, at once basic and flashy. The top half of the page rattles off Carey’s achievements and the watch lists he graces (national leader in yards per game, 2012 All-American, candidate for the Heisman).

Farther down, an illustration tracks how close the aptly named Carey is to breaking the school’s rushing record (550 yards to go). The bottom right of the page is devoted to quotes about the junior running back from teammates and admirers alike.

An exultant quote from Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre stands out. “If there is a better running back in America, I want to see him,” he said a few days before the Wildcats routed the Buffaloes, 44-20, on Saturday. “He’s the best I’ve seen in a long, long time.”

The Cal football team (1-7, 0-5 in the Pac-12) is bruised after a road loss to Washington in which Bishop Sankey tore through the Cal secondary for 241 yards — or more than 50 percent of the Bears’ and Huskies’ combined yardage.

On Saturday at 12:30 p.m., the Bears look primed for a repeat performance when Arizona (5-2, 2-2) unleashes Team Ka’Deem upon Memorial Stadium.

Carey isn’t a new face for head coach Sonny Dykes, who had a hand in recruiting the player during his three-year stint as offensive coordinator in Tucson, Ariz. Yet Dykes didn’t spend much time dwelling on the Arizona threat during Cal’s weekly press conference.

“He’s a physical, tough, hard-nosed, talented kid who has been battle-tested,” Dykes said. “Probably the best back in the league. I like the way he plays the game.”

Admiration could quickly give way to frustration Saturday, though. Carey has 920 rushing yards on the season. The entire Cal team, meanwhile, has only managed 876.

But Carey is no longer the Wildcats’ sole rushing threat. Although only in his first year under center, quarterback B.J. Denker has rapidly established himself as a dual-threat quarterback.

“Even though he’s a senior, he’s like a redshirt freshman,” said Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez in his weekly press conference before later adding, “I like the progress B.J.’s made in the last month from where he was at to where he’s doing now.”

Denker has amassed the second-most rushing yards on the team this year, with 519. His average — 5.8 yards per carry — is nearly identical to that of his top back.

Denker even surpassed Carey’s stats against Colorado. Although MacIntyre praised his team afterward for stopping Carey, doing so left Denker open.

“Any time your quarterback is involved in the run game, it always creates a numerical advantage for the offense,” Dykes said.

Despite the one-two punch of Carey and Denker, Arizona has largely flown under the radar — both nationally and in-conference — this season. Hence the Wildcats’ attempts to direct the national spotlight Carey’s way.

Arizona’s record is middle-of-the-road in a way Cal fans and team alike could only dream of at this point in the year. The Wildcats need only one more win to qualify for a bowl game — a win that could easily come against a Cal rushing defense ranked 91st in the nation in yards allowed per game, with 189.13.

But Saturday’s matchup will also be the beleaguered Wildcats’ fourth road trip in five weeks. Just as Carey’s yards per game lead the nation, the consecutive away games lend a similar distinction to the program.

“We’re the only BCS team in the nation to do that,” Rodriguez said.

Annie Gerlach covers football. Contact her at [email protected]