By Josh Dubow
BERKELEY, Calif.: Brendan Bigelow spun around Ohio State defenders, kept his balance with his hand on the ground and sprinted for an 81-yard touchdown.
The talented California running back wasn’t done a year ago in Columbus, adding a 59-yard score as part of a jaw-dropping, four-carry- for-160-yard afternoon that stamped his arrival on the college football landscape.
“He had incredible speed when he got in the open field and just made us look silly as far as missed tackles thanks to his effort,” coach Urban Meyer said.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes (2-0) have watched those plays over and over leading up to the rematch against the Golden Bears (1-1) on Saturday in Berkeley in hopes of eliminating them in the future.
Cal is still waiting to see more of that game-breaking ability from Bigelow. Instead of vaulting him to bigger things, that performance has been a teasing flash of unrealized talent.
“I’ve seen the plays he had last year,” first-year Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “We’re ready for him to make some plays like that, some explosive plays. He hasn’t had a chance to do that so far up to this point. We need for him to do it. There’s a lot of people that are involved in that.”
Dykes said the Bears need better blocking on the inside and perimeter and for Bigelow to run tougher and be more decisive to get more of those runs this year.
Getting the running game going is a priority in order to take some pressure off freshman quarterback Jared Goff, who has thrown 115 passes the first two weeks.
Bigelow was little-used by Cal last season despite that big performance as he struggled to grasp former coach Jeff Tedford’s intricate offense. He carried the ball just 38 times in the final nine games as he struggled even to get on the field.
A simpler, spread approach from Dykes was supposed to get Bigelow more involved in the offense but that hasn’t translated yet into big performances like he had at Ohio State a year ago.
“It was a similar offensive style than what I had in high school,” Bigelow said. “It really fits nice with how I run and what I can do. It fits everything that I do. It works out.”
It looked like a breakthrough would happen in the season opener against Northwestern when he carried three times for 55 yards on the first plays from scrimmage. But he has had just 81 yards on the 30 carries since then against the Wildcats and Portland State.
“People are starting to see what I can actually do and they don’t want me to get outside,” Bigelow said. “They’re making a better point to stop me in the open field.”
Despite those ordinary numbers, Bigelow has clearly caught the Buckeyes’ attention with the way he played last year. Linebacker Joshua Perry said the defensive coaches show those plays often to remind the players of what not to do.
The Buckeyes have placed a premium on tackling ever since that game and especially this week.
“We haven’t allowed big plays because that’s just the biggest emphasis,” defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “In our first two or three games last year, it was like we were playing good defense and then it would be a 70-yard run or a 50-yard pass or something like that. The coaches felt like they needed to put more of an emphasis on that after that game.”
That emphasis is expected to carry over to Saturday even if Cal’s running game hasn’t clicked yet this season.
“I’m pretty sure they’ll come at me pretty hard,” Bigelow said. “I’m pretty sure they know who I am. I’m just going to go out and play my game.”