LIVE THREAD: Bears vs. Buckeyes
BERKELEY -- One of the first videos that California head coach Sonny Dykes watched when he got the job in Berkeley was last year’s Bears-Ohio State game in Columbus, Ohio.
“I went through and watched all the games from last year,” Dykes says. “I’ve seen the plays that he had last year, and we’re ready for him to make some plays like that – some explosive plays.”
Four carries for 160 yards and two touchdowns. It’s safe to say that the No. 4 Buckeyes remember Bigelow. Certainly, their fans do.
“Somebody actually wrote me a letter. They said, ‘Good game,’ and ‘You almost beat us,’” Bigelow says. “It was a pretty good letter, from a fan of Ohio State, a handwritten letter.”
That letter now resides on Bigelow’s wall: a constant reminder of just what he can do when unleashed.
It’s unlikely the Buckeyes will allow for that to happen this Saturday – at least not easily.
“I certainly do remember Bigelow,” says Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. “He has incredible speed when he’s in the open field, and made us just look silly as far as missed tackles. Ever since then, we’ve tackled every week, every day, because there was such poor tackling on him. He’s a very, very talented guy. What great speed.”
After coming off a meniscus surgery this offseason, Bigelow has been just a hair away – one broken tackle – from breaking those big, long runs. Though Bigelow leads the Bears with 136 net yards rushing, the Bears as a team have only churned out 220 net yards on the ground on just 78 carries, compared with 116 passing attempts. Bigelow graded his first two games as a D-.
“I’m pretty hard on myself, though, and I expect more of myself,” he says.
Ohio State’s defensive backs – led by senior safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett -- won’t be caught unawares by either the passing game or Bigelow, as they were last year. With stout linebackers Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier in front of them, expect much more disciplined run fits and a focus on bottling up Bigelow, while at the same time, forcing freshman quarterback Jared Goff to put the ball in the air as much as he has over the past two games.
“Ohio State’s defense matches up pretty well against everybody. They’re athletic. They’re big up front. They’re a little bit young, a little bit inexperienced, having to replace some guys, but they’re going to match up well against everybody,” says Dykes. “They tackle well in the open field. They’ve got a little bit more experience returning on the back end, where they’re athletic and play the ball well. That’s one thing that stands out: Their DBs make contested plays on the football when it’s in the air. It’ll be a huge challenge for us.”
This week, while the Cal defensive backfield has seen some shuffling given injuries (Jason Gibson and Alex Logan will likely start in place of out-for-the-season Avery Sebastian and still-tender Michael Lowe, who should play), the offense has been focused on force-feeding Bigelow between the tackles. It’s clear that he will be the primary weapon – at least, at first – and his assignment will be to gash the Buckeyes on the interior, where talented freshman defensive end Joey Bosa won’t be able to get to him.
“They’re getting me a little more comfortable with everything, getting my pads low, making sure I’m getting contact, so I’m ready for the game, because I’m going to be pounding it in the middle a lot,” Bigelow says.
For Bigelow and the running game to be successful, the offensive line has to finish blocks, particularly on the interior, and especially down field.
“He’s a back that’s got some big-play potential. We need to get that out of him, and he’s probably got to finish runs a little bit better than he has, but I think he will, and part of it is, when you’re coming off of a knee injury, you’ve got to get that confidence back in your knee,” says Dykes. “It seems to me that he gets a little more comfortable every day. He just seems to trust his body a little bit more every day, and he’s still learning the offense, the ins and outs. We expect big things out of him. He had a heck of a game last year against Ohio State, had a couple of pretty long touchdown runs, and certainly it would be a big help for us on Saturday if he were to have a repeat performance.”
Bigelow, for one, is up for it.
“I like a challenge,” he says. “I’m pretty sure they know who I am, now. But, again, everybody knows me now.
“We have a chip on our shoulder. We went up there and almost upset them. We came up short. We have a chip on our shoulder, and we’re coming after them.”
THE VITAL DETAILS
When: Sept. 14, 4:30 PM Pacific
Watch: FOX, with pregame FOX College Saturday Tour show from 10:30 AM to 1 PM.
Series: Ohio State leads, 6-1, all-time
STAT TO WATCH
California has allowed 454 yards on the ground over the first two games. The Buckeyes have ripped off 524 rushing yards over the first two games, with just 82 of those coming from quarterback Braxton Miller, who’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry over his career, with 2,068 total rushing yards.
The Buckeyes boast freshman “pivot” back Dontre Wilson, who is the designated playmaker akin to DeAnthony Thomas of Oregon. On just 12 touches, he already has 86 yards this season. His first collegiate touch came on a swing pass from Miller, and he was just one shoestring tackle away from a 61-yard touchdown. He’s particularly dangerous on the option pitch.
The second X-factor for the Buckeyes will be receiver Devin Smith, who averaged 29.5 yards per catch against the Bears (5 for 145 yards) last year, good for third-place all-time at Ohio State for a single game. With a depleted secondary, expect Smith to be one of the main stretch-the-field weapons who can get behind the defense and break down coverage.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Ohio State’s secondary. The Buckeyes will not be playing much press – if any – allowing speedsters Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper to get downfield in a hurry for Goff, who’s proven to be quite adept at the long pass through the first two games.
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