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Homecoming '12: avoid the hangover

Rebounding this week is critical for the Arizona Wildcats football team, as it’s become apparent they won’t likely win a road game in 2012, following their 66-10 embarrassment in Pasadena a week ago, and given that their final road test falls a week from now against a Utah team that has been resurgent as of late, dominating Cal and Washington State in its last two games, both in Salt Lake City.

With Matt Scott listed as doubtful, a heavy dose of Ka'Deem Carey should be expected Saturday when Arizona hosts Colorado.

The 5-4 Cats can attain bowl eligibility with a win this Saturday on their own turf, and the homecoming atmosphere, along with what should be an overmatched opponent, should give the UA and its fans confidence that a postseason berth will indeed be secured.

Colorado isn’t a team well-equipped to hang with the Wildcats – their eight losses have come by an average of 34 points – but two massive unknowns are at play this weekend: just how good Arizona will be without the services of one of the top offensive producers in the nation in quarterback Matt Scott, who is listed as doubtful to play due to a concussion suffered last week, and how long the hangover of a demoralizing eight-touchdown loss has stuck with the team.

The crowd in Arizona Stadium for Saturday’s 11:30 a.m. kickoff should be solid – UA athletic director Greg Byrne announced via email Wednesday the Cats were on pace to see their largest attendance in 2012 – and the homecoming game has typically yielded good results for the team wearing cardinal and navy. The Wildcats are 5-2 on homecoming since 2005, and their lone matchup with a team as comparably bad as this year’s foe came in 2009, when they trounced Washington State, which finished its season with a 1-11 record, by 41 points.

Even without Scott, Arizona still possesses the single best player that will take the field for either team on Saturday, in tailback Ka’Deem Carey. The sophomore from Oro Valley eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the season last week in the Rose Bowl, and has crossed the goal line 13 times in 2012, good for second in the Pac-12 behind Oregon’s Kenjon Barner, who had his own career performance in Los Angeles a week ago, to the tune of five scores.

Carey will be the horse Rich Rodriguez puts his money on against the Buffaloes, and with good reason. CU has surrendered 204 ground yards per game this fall, and that may well lend itself to Carey turning in his best performance of the season, a week removed from his most stagnant, when he totaled just 54 yards on 16 totes (though he did punch in a score).

However, it will be interesting to see what the lack of a senior leader in the backfield does to the Wildcats’ psyche, as they have yet to prove potent with backup B.J. Denker on the field, limited as his opportunities have been. The good news, though, is that Colorado’s pass defense is among the worst in the nation at 293 yards per game, and while that number is actually slightly better than Arizona’s, the Buffs have only forced 12 turnovers through nine games, while the Wildcats have a positive turnover margin at 19 takeaways, to 18 yielded.

Arizona’s defense will look to remain opportunistic against the team from Boulder, which has coughed up 23 turnovers in what has been a forgettable year, one in which they’ve mustered just 16 points per outing.

Therefore, if Denker can simply avoid many major mistakes, the cloudy, cool afternoon in the Old Pueblo should end with a UA victory, however unconvincing it may be.

The Buffaloes are probably worse than they were a year ago, when they were a three win team, and yet, when the Wildcats traveled to Folsom Field on Nov. 12, 2011, they turned in the sloppiest performance of their own crestfallen season, giving up 500 yards and four turnovers en route to a 48-29 defeat.

Suffice it to say, there’s danger in this game, though one would assume the home field advantage will tip the scales in favor of Arizona.

The Wildcats’ two big wins of the year came over teams that have dealt with their own struggles in 2012 – Oklahoma State is 5-3 and USC has dropped three straight after opening the season with six consecutive wins. It’s now evident that the Cats are a good team, but certainly not in the echelon of their four defeaters – Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, and UCLA – teams that are a combined 31-5 thus far.

Still, Arizona has turned in enough performances to prove their bowl worthiness, though avoiding a letdown, and how well they seize this latest opportunity, just a week removed from controlling their own destiny in the Pac-12 South division race, remains to be seen.

A victory on Saturday would be an indicative part of the foundation Rodriguez is building in Tucson, and a bowl appearance would be a proud start to his tenure, given what the UA program has suffered through in the past decade. This week is Arizona’s last best shot of the season, because their road failures, coupled with the unpredictability of their rivalry game with ASU on Nov. 23, mean there’s a realistic chance the regular season could end on a sour note for the Wildcats.

It may not be pretty this week, but the timing is right for Arizona to bounce back with a stout enough effort to send ‘Ralphie’ and the rest of the Buffaloes back to Boulder to wonder when they’ll ever win again.

It’s a brunch-time kickoff Saturday, and Ka’Deem will feast, while Scott continues to recover and focus on returning in time to lead his team in vying for a seventh – and perhaps even eighth – 2012 victory.

Arizona 38, Colorado 26. It’s good to be home.

Follow me on Twitter @EricWKay

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