On a homecoming afternoon Arizona was missing its starting quarterback, Ka'Deem Carey came out as king.
The sophomore running back set new school records Saturday with 366 yards and five touchdowns in Arizona's 56-31 blowout over Colorado in front of a season-high 51,236 fans at Arizona Stadium.
Carey's rushing total also set a new Pac-12 Conference single-game mark set by Washington State's Rueben Mayes in 1984. On top of that, his 34 receiving yards pushed him to an even 400 all-purpose yards to set another UA record.
"When I woke up this morning I just had a great feeling and just put in my head that I wanted the school record," said Carey, who eclipsed Trung Canidate's single-game rushing record of 288 yards set Nov. 27, 1998 against Arizona State.
As the cherry on top, Carey's rushing performance was the ninth-best all-time in FBS history and the top mark in the nation this season.
After finishing just 4-8 and going through a coaching change last season, the Wildcats (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) are now bowl eligible and guaranteed at least a .500 finish in the regular season.
UA's last bowl appearance was a 36-10 loss to Oklahoma State in the 2010 Alamo Bowl.
"I'm especially happy for our seniors," first-year UA head coach Rich Rodriguez said.
As an offense, the 'Cats generated 438 yards in just 18-plus minutes of possession. In comparison, the Buffaloes (1-9, 1-6 Pac-12) had the ball for a little under 42 minutes.
Backup quarterback B.J. Denker, who completed 12 of 14 attempts, passed for 136 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start. He also added 44 rushing yards and a touchdown.
"We knew that they were going to either let me run the ball by taking away Ka'Deem, or they were going to let Ka'Deem run the ball," Denker said. "For some reason, they decided to let him run the ball. Not a very smart move.
"I told Ka'Deem, 'We might run for 500 yards together.'"
The first snap did not exactly go as planned, however. The junior college transfer - starting in place of a concussed Matt Scott - fumbled a handoff and Colorado recovered on the Arizona 7-yard line.
"I barely even had time to put it in (Carey's) belly," Denker said of the fumble. "I was hit before I could even make a decision."
Buffs running back Christian Powell then punched it in on the ensuing play to give Colorado its first lead in 15 quarters, dating back to Oct. 11 against Arizona State.
But Denker settled down to complete all three of his throws for 42 yards and run the ball twice for 12 yards on the next drive. Carey capped the nine-play, 80-yard drive - which lasted three seconds shy of three minutes - with a 10-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7 with 9:01 left in the first quarter.
For at least a quarter, Colorado kept the game interesting. An offense that was blanked last week and has scored a combined 20 in the last three games answered back with its longest drive of the season.
Although spotted at the 1, head coach Jon Embree elected to take the points and Will Oliver connected on an 18-yard field goal to retake a 10-7 advantage. The drive lasted 8 minutes, 18 seconds.
But that was as long as the Buffs' competitive run would last.
After another Carey rushing score inside the first two minutes of the second quarter, Colorado quarterback Nick Hirschman gift-wrapped an interception directly to UA safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant.
Like Denker, Hirschman went from backup to starter after Embree decided to replace Jordan Webb during the week of practice. The sophomore completed 12 of 13 attempts for 123 yards.
"There were a couple mistakes today with the clock and [Hirschman] made a mistake on the interception, but he did his job," Embree said.
The 'Cats then went to receiver Garic Wharton for a 19-yard end-around before Carey broke loose again, this time for a 30-yard scamper into the end zone to run the score to 21-10 with 10:30 left in the half.
"When you see a big hole like that, you just know your front line did what they had to do," Carey said.
"I'll be gassed, but I'm like, 'Well, they did it again.' What am I going to do, fall down?"
Before the half ended, Carey tacked on runs of 21 and 26 yards to highlight a drive finished off by Denker's 21-yard rainbow to Dan Buckner, extending the lead to 28-17.
"I feel like he threw the ball pretty well," Buckner said. "I mean, he threw the ball to me three times for two touchdowns."
UA piled it on in the third quarter and pitched a 21-0 shutout to create separation. The running back eclipsed his previous career-high rushing total of 172 yards less than two minutes into the quarter.
At the 6:47 mark, Carey high-stepped his way into the UA record books - literally - on an 8-yard run. His fourth touchdown tied the school's single-game record and made him the sixth player in school history to reach the mark.
Keola Antolin was the last to achieve the feat in a 2008 contest against Oregon.
"He's an All-Pac-12 back, it's pretty simple," Embree said. "I don't know where he ranks, but he, Kenjon Barner and Johnathan Franklin are all pretty good."
With less than two minutes to play in the third, Carey surpassed Canidate with a 71-yard dash. Denker completed the two-play, 28-second scoring drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 49-17.
Aside from the final score, all that was left to figure out in the final quarter was whether Carey would claim the UA's single-game touchdown mark for himself. He not only did that, but surpassed Mayes' 28-year-old conference mark for rushing yards, which was previously 357.
Carey dashed 64 yards down the middle of the field and then added a 3-yard touchdown to put him at 366 yards with 8:01 to play before receiving a much-deserved rest.
"It was a lot of fun out there blocking for him," senior center Kyle Quinn said. "He's an explosive running back and he proved that today. He's going to get the nation's attention with this performance today, so it was exciting to block for him."