Arizona Wildcats Football: Midseason Awards for Players and Coaches

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2013

Arizona Wildcats Football: Midseason Awards for Players and Coaches

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    Arizona is halfway through its 2013 college football schedule, and while the results of those first six games have gone mostly as expected, there have been a fair amount of surprises along the way.

    The Wildcats are 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12 Conference heading into the second half of the season, getting contributions from players they might not have expected when preseason training camp began in August.

    As the midpoint comes, it's time to highlight the best of the best for Arizona. Click through the slides to see who we think are most deserving of some midseason awards.

Offensive MVP

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    Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Jr.

    Ka'Deem Carey isn't playing like a guy who led the nation in rushing last season. Well, he's running like someone capable of doing so but not as if he's already been there and has nothing to prove.

    The junior ran for more 1,929 yards in 2012 and is actually on pace to surpass that total despite sitting out Arizona's season opener while serving a one-game suspension related to off-field legal issues. At 161.0 yards per game, Carey is again No. 1 in the FBS.

    He ran for 236 yards in Saturday's 35-24 win over Utah, rushing for 30 yards on Arizona's first offensive snap and then clinching the victory with a 44-yard run with 90 seconds left.

    Barring injury or a complete reversal in Arizona's run-heavy game plan, Carey will break Trung Canidate's school record for career rushing yards by the end of the season.

Defensive MVP

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    Jake Fischer, Sr., LB

    Jake Fischer is the on-field coach in Arizona's 3-3-5 defense, setting up his teammates' alignment and anchoring the linebacking crew as its Mike backer. He's also the only linebacker that stays on the field when the Wildcats bring in their SWAT defense, a third-down, pass-rushing specialty unit that features seven defensive backs.

    Statistically, the fifth-year player and local product has 40 tackles and a fumble recovery. He also returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown in the Wildcats' 58-13 win at UNLV in September.

Best Play

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    B.J. Denker's 30-yard touchdown run vs. Northern Arizona

    None of Arizona's first six games have been decided on one play, though Ka'Deem Carey's long TD run late against Utah on Saturday did sew up a contest that had been in doubt until that point.

    While each of the wins have featured several plays that were integral to victory (and the losses had some big-time, single-play efforts), the most memorable snap came in Arizona's season-opening 35-0 win over Northern Arizona.

    It was when senior quarterback B.J. Denker dropped back to pass, but after quickly realizing his receivers were covered and recognizing NAU's defense wasn't spying on him, he took off from the left side of the pocket and headed upfield.

    Not one to get just a few yards and fall to the ground, Denker instead cut right and continued upfield, his eyes on the end zone. He got there, but as he was nearing the goal line, an NAU defender was able to make contact, causing Denker to give his best break-dancing impression as he slid into the end zone and around a few times on his butt.

Best Coach

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    Jeff Casteel, defensive coordinator

    In his second year with Arizona, Jeff Casteel is finally starting to implement the complete defense he wanted to bring with him from a nine-year stint as defensive coordinator at West Virginia. He worked there under current Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez before he went to Michigan and was the first coach Rodriguez called when he was hired at Arizona prior to the 2012 season.

    Casteel's 3-3-5 defense morphs into one with linebackers on the defensive line and seven defensive backs in passing situations—a unit known as SWAT. That unit has been an integral part of Arizona's improved defense this year, which is 21st nationally in scoring defense at 19.8 points per game.

    Compare that to the 2012 defense that was allowing more than 35 points per game, and it's easy to see that with time to get things in place, Casteel has become an integral part of Arizona's coaching staff.

Most Improved Player

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    Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Jr., DB

    Though he missed most of Saturday's win over Utah after being injured, Tra'Mayne Bondurant has been an integral part of Arizona's defensive resurgence. His 29 tackles include three for loss, one of which was an 11-yard sack, while in his more standard role as a pass defender he leads the team with three interceptions.

    Two of those picks have been returned for scores; one each in Arizona's first two games.

    Bondurant has been a starter since midway through his freshman season, but he's stepped it up a notch as a junior. Arizona is 21st in passing defense, allowing just under 200 yards per game, and Bondurant is a big reason for that.

Rookie of the Year

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    Scooby Wright, Fr., LB

    Scooby Wright was expected to contribute to Arizona's linebacker corps when he arrived on campus during the summer. Instead, he started from the first game.

    Wright is the Wildcats' co-leader in tackles with 40, despite not playing in obvious passing situations when Arizona brings in a separate pass-rushing unit on third downs.

Surprise Star

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    Nate Phillips, Fr., WR/KR

    It was moments after Nate Phillips slid in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown catch, three plays after pulling in a 36-yard pass from B.J. Denker, that Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star sent out this tweet about the Wildcats' breakout star:

    A reminder: Nate Phillips was rated as the 189th best WR in the country by Scout. His other offers: North Dakota, Air Force and NAU.

    — Daniel Berk (@DSBerk) October 20, 2013

    Phillips, generously listed at 5'7", 177 pounds, leads Arizona's receiving corps with 199 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown against USC. He is also the Wildcats' top kick returner and took over as punt returner against Utah after teammate Johnny Jackson muffed a pair of returns.