TUCSON, Ariz. - Colorado found a hint of offense on Saturday with a couple of new quarterbacks but didn't have a clue as to how to cope with Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey.
The sophomore running back slashed through the Buffaloes 25 times for a Pac-12 Conference record 366 yards and five touchdowns to push the Wildcats to a 56-31 victory and into the postseason in Rich Rodriguez's first season as head coach.
Arizona improved to 6-4 overall and 3-4 in the Pac-12, while CU lost its sixth consecutive game and fell to 1-9, 1-6. The Buffs finish with home games against Washington (Nov. 17) and Utah (Nov. 23). They have not won at Folsom Field yet this season.
Carey's rushing total broke the previous Pac-12/10 mark of 357 set by Washington State's Rueben Mayes in 1984 against Oregon. It also was the most ever against CU, surpassing the 268 by Kansas' David Winbush in 1998. Through three quarters, the 5-10, 197-pound Carey had rushed for 293 yards on 21 carries, with a career-long run of 71 yards. He entered the afternoon averaging 112.8 yards a game, with 13 TDs.
Asked by a reporter how Carey stacked up against other backs the Buffs have seen this season, CU coach Jon Embree said, "I don't believe you compare guys like that. Everybody's unique and different."
Both teams started new quarterbacks - B.J. Decker replacing injured Matt Scott for Arizona and Nick Hirschman replacing benched Jordan Webb for CU. Hirschman left the game in the third quarter with a head injury having completed 12 of 13 passes for 123 yards with one interception.
Embree said Hirschman "did a good job of managing the game - it was night and day (difference) from his last start at Arizona State (last season). He's really matured and come along."
Hirschman was spelled by Connor Wood, who guided the Buffs on fourth-quarter scoring drives of 64 and 75 yards. Freshman tailback Donta Abron scored his first college TD on a 10-yard run to cap the first march, and junior tight end Scott Fernandez's first career reception resulted in a 71-yard TD catch that also was Wood's first career scoring pass.
"We had some fight today," Wood said. "Some plays didn't go our way, but we've still got a lot in us. We were sure we were going to win this game . . . I know these next two games we want to finish real strong; we're focused to end it well."
Wood was "overall happy" about his performance and happier still about Fernandez's scoring reception. "He deserves it; he works hard," Wood said, adding he believed he proved something to the CU coaches. "I think I moved the chains well in the opportunities I had."
Wood's final passing stats: four-of-seven for 90 yards and one touchdown. Walk-on QB John Schrock took one snap on CU's final possession, marking his first career action.
The two TD marches directed by Wood only brought the Buffs to within 49-31 on an afternoon that was ruled by Carey running mostly unchecked through an overmatched, undermanned CU defense. The Wildcats finished with 574 yards in total offense, including 438 yards rushing.
CU finished with a season-best 225 yards rushing, with freshman tailback Christian Powell carrying 32 times for 137 yards and two TDs. Abron carried 13 times for 83 yards - both career highs - and one TD.
Powell said the Buffs "knew from structure of their defense we could have success running the ball . . . we were working on that all week."
Saturday marked Powell's third 100-yard rushing game this season. He said he simply was trying to follow his coaches' advice: "Our coaches tell us to come out and have fun, that's what I'm trying to do. You'd like to win, but when you're out there with all your boys and stuff . . . you try to make the most of these opportunities."
Abron, who played tailback while Powell was at fullback last year at Upland (Calif.) High School, got more work Saturday than in any previous game. He said it "felt great to get out on the field and show what I got." He credited "great blocking" from CU's line and receivers and said the offense as a whole was "better and more focused."
The Buffs got the game's first break - a fumble recovery by linebacker Derrick Webb - and took their first lead since the final seconds of their 35-34 win in the conference opener at Washington State. That was on Sept. 22, and since then CU's offense had gone into hibernation.
Need proof? The Buffs defeated the Wildcats 49-28 last season in Boulder, and in their five straight defeats since the win at Wazzu they had totaled 51 points.
But Saturday's start appeared promising. On the first play after Webb's recovery of a botched Decker handoff at the Arizona 7-yard line, Powell ran in for the touchdown and after Will Oliver's PAT, the Buffs led 7-0.
Of course, the euphoria was short-lived. Arizona zipped 80 yards in nine plays to tie the score at 7-7 on Carey's 10-yard run and John Bonano's extra point.
After submitted their longest possession of the season - 8:18 - but getting only an 18-yard field goal by Oliver out of it, the Buffs went back up 10-7. After that, they went into catch-up mode for the rest of the first half.
Arizona regained the lead (14-10) on a 13-yard run by Carey, then CU turned the ball over on a Hirschman interception - it was his first incompletion after hitting seven straight - by defensive back Tra'Mayne Bondurant, killing a promising Buffs drive at the Wildcats' 30.
Two plays later, Carey sprinted 30 yards through the CU defense, Bonano hit the PAT and Arizona was up 21-10 with 10:30 left before intermission.
The Buffs answered with another time-consuming drive - 7:46 - and this time got a touchdown out of it on Powell's 1-yard plunge to cap a 75-yard march. Oliver's extra point pulled CU to within 21-17, but the Buffs' problem was becoming obvious: Finding a semblance of offense was offset by their bend-and-break defense.
In contrast to CU's clock-chewing efforts, the Wildcats preferred chewing on the Buffs. Arizona answered CU's long drive by scoring in 1:28, scoring on a 21-yard Decker to Dan Buckner pass that completed a quick 79-yard, six-play possession. The Wildcats went up 28-17 and took that lead into the third quarter.
At halftime, CU was in the statistical battle, trailing Arizona 272-228 in total yardage and 13-12 in first downs. The possession time was a lopsided 22:53-7:07 in favor of the Buffs, who could only lament that minutes on offense can't be translated into points.
Needing a stop to open the second half, CU didn't come close to getting it. Arizona needed 1:53 and six plays to go 73 yards - 61 of it on three runs by Carey - and take a commanding 35-17 lead. Decker hit Buckner with a 9-yard pass for the TD, Bonano kicked the PAT and the Wildcats wondered if the Buffs would respond - and how long it might take.
No response this time; CU kept the ball for six plays before Darragh O'Neill was brought on to punt. One play before, Hirschman was sacked, spun to the turf and left the game with a head injury. The Buffs were penalized three times on that possession - a delay of game, a false start, interfering with a fair catch - and the Wildcats were awarded a short field for a 49-yard drive that would put the game away and send them into the postseason.
Carey added to his career day with an 8-yard scoring run - his fourth of the game - and Arizona was in command, 42-17, midway through the third quarter. Wood replaced Hirschman with 6:38 left in the period and stayed in for the rest of the game.
Carey and the Wildcats were from done. After Wood's first series, Carey broke free for a 71-yard run - his career long - to set up a 10-yard scoring run by Decker. That drive's vital stats: Two plays, 81 yards, 28 seconds. Even more vital: Arizona 49, CU 17 with a quarter to play.
Carey and the 'Cats kept on running and running - and the Buffs never caught up.
BUFF BITS: CU started six freshmen Saturday - five on defense and Powell. The six on defense: corners Kenneth Crawley and Yuri Wright, safety Marques Mosley, and defensive linemen Josh Tupou and Samson Kafovalu . . . . Junior defensive back Parker Orms (concussion symptoms) did not play, which left CU shorthanded in the secondary after Wright went to the sidelines in the second quarter with an ankle injury . . . . CU also lost senior tight end Nick Kasa in the first half after he experienced concussion symptoms . . . . If a first-quarter Hirschman-to-Abron screen pass would have held up, it would have given the Buffs one less yard than they gained all game (76) last week against Stanford. The pass-run play covered 75 yards, but was nullified by a holding call on guard Eric Richter.