BERKELEY -- On the 12th day of fall camp, California tailback Brendan Bigelow finally rose from the dead.
The junior playmaker only carried the ball five times, but by the end of the afternoon, he had left quite an impression. Although he wasn't even in school a year ago, true freshman quarterback Jared Goff marveled that the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder looked like "the old Bigelow" – the same back that torched Ohio State for the longest run ever surrendered by the Buckeyes in their home stadium (an 81-yard touchdown rumble), en route to a 160-yard day last Sept. 15.
"He had a great day today," said Goff, who saw Bigelow tote the rock five times for 46 yards in Saturday's second scrimmage of the fall. "He looked great. He looked like the old Bigelow – how he looked when he didn't have the knee thing. He's been great. He's doing really good."
Bigelow started off slowly, seeing an overthrown pass his way from Goff and then being bottled up by Michael Barton, Isaac Lapite and Chris McCain for just two yards on his first carry, with Barton saving a likely touchdown by pushing Bigelow out of bounds. Much of the running game early was notably Bigelow-free, with the first big play coming on a double reverse from Khalfani Muhammad to Bryce Treggs for a 29-yard gain, thanks to a big drive block from center Chris Adcock.
"That just shows how many playmakers we have," Treggs said of the play. "Kenny [Lawler] can make plays, Chris [Harper] can make plays, and I believe [I] can make plays. At any given time, we have the ability to change the game and make a big difference. That's what we're going to bring to the table."
Then, slowly but surely, Bigelow got going. He rushed the right A-gap for three yards, then caught an 11-yard swing pass from Goff and took a pitch right against the defense's leading tackler – safety Michael Lowe -- for a physical four-yard gain.
"It felt real good, actually," Bigelow said. "I'm just kind of getting used to my offensive linemen, and them blocking up front, so it's definitely coming along. I'm going to keep working on that explosiveness."
Lowe and Bigelow would match up again several plays later, when the redshirt junior defensive back delivered a second big shot to stop a four-yard run.
Then, something clicked.
After Goff hit Treggs on the left for a first down from the offense's 25, Bigelow rushed for 10 yards, untouched, when he found Lucas King waiting for him at the second level. Bigelow shaked and baked, losing King and gaining an additional 20 yards.
"You guys can see: He looked a lot more dynamic today than he did a week ago, and I think that's his comfort level," said head coach Sonny Dykes, who limited Bigelow's time in the first scrimmage as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. "We wanted to give him the ball some, see how he reacts. Any time you suffer a knee injury like that, you want to come back and be comfortable, and I think he gets more comfortable every practice."
Bigelow and King met again on the very next play, when the tailback spun away from the redshirt junior defensive end for a seven-yard chunk on his last carry of the day.
"It's definitely coming back," Bigelow said of his explosiveness. "I'm definitely confident -- more confident that I was. I'm just taking it one day at a time. It's getting a lot better. There are little things that I still need to work on with my knee, but I'm going to keep getting it in there and keep getting it rehabbed and stuff like that."
Bigelow still said that he's at about 85%, but he's confident that he'll be ready to go by Aug. 31, for the opener against Northwestern.
"I want to be a lot faster, become one with the brace, because right now, it's like a love-hate relationship," Bigelow said. "I'm still trying to get used to it and everything. It's coming along, though."
Bigelow also showed his improving skills catching the ball out of the backfield, hauling in two balls for 19 yards.
"It's coming along well. I'm taking it one day at a time, and I'll definitely get better at it," he said. "I've felt like I've been comfortable with it, but if the coaches think I need to work on something, I'm going to work on it."
While Bigelow's carries certainly created a buzz in the crowd, the rest of the Bears rushing attack was solid in its own right.
Muhammad gained 26 yards on five carries, while Darren Ervin gained 25 on five touches (along with two catches for two yards) and Jeffrey Coprich weighing in with five carries for 20 yards. After a strong week of practice, though, it was Jonah Hodges who turned in perhaps the best performance of the day, gaining 44 yards on three carries, including a two-yard touchdown scamper.
After receiving the first punt of the day and getting promptly hammered by Johnny Ragin III for his trouble, Hodges broke off a 37-yard run to start off Zach Kline's second series, rushing right and leaving safety Alex Logan standing all by himself after a nifty sidestep. Two plays later, Hodges hammered the drive home with a two-yard run through a wide lane created by the second-team offensive line.
Coprich was also very impressive on Saturday, though his afternoon didn't start off quite as he planned. On his first carry, Coprich was discus-hurled back for a three-yard loss by Ragin, who, incidentally, was the Oregon State champ in the javelin and sixth in the shot put this spring; the only implement he didn't throw was, in fact, the discus.
The TFL ended Kline's first drive, forcing a 49-yard field goal by Vincenzo D'Amato. Several hours after the scrimmage, running backs coach Pierre Ingram tweeted: "@JohnnyRaginIII go to sleep lol and stop hitting my RunningBacks so hard jk."
Coprich got Kline's third drive off to a rousing start, taking a big hit from Lapite after his first five yards on a run and then bouncing back and escaping for another 10 yards for a 15-yard gain, setting up an eventual touchdown on the 10-play drive.
In all, Cal tailbacks accounted for 161 yards (unofficially) on 23 carries.
SCRIMMAGE: The Running Game
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