WEDNESDAY: Run Tell That

Daniel Lasco has studied Big Games of years past, and is ready to do his part as he returns to the backfield this week against Stanford.

BERKELEY -- For the first time in about two weeks, California tailback Daniel Lasco was in a white jersey on Wednesday, instead of the Big Game Week-inappropriate red.

While Lasco told BearTerritory that the color's unseemliness during this week never really struck him, he and the Bears are glad to be out of it.

"It was good to have him out there, mixing it up a little bit. He looks better, so we'll see how it goes," said head coach Sonny Dykes.

Lasco had been dealing with a shoulder injury which kept him out of the Colorado game, and limited him to mostly a decoy role against USC, but now, he's ready and raring to keep banging.

"The shoulder's good," he said. "I've been practicing this whole time, and today, I just decided to put a different jersey on.

"That's all it was," he laughed.

While the rest of the Bears wear shorts during practice – though some do wear last season's game pants – Lasco goes full-on, with game pants and pads underneath, evincing his lust for contact.

"I've been doing that since halfway through the season," Lasco said. "It just makes me feel better. This is how I'm going to be playing, so you might as well practice how you play. It's more comfortable than just shorts. It feels good. It feels good."

The hard-running Texan knows well the recent history of the Big Game, particularly when it comes to running backs.

At this week's press conference, starting MIKE linebacker Michael Barton referred to one game in particular that was meaningful both for him, and for Lasco.

"I grew up watching Cal for pretty much my whole life," Barton said. "I think 2009 was the Mike Mohamed interception in the red zone, Stanford was driving down the field and he got that pick, and that's when I decided I wanted to play linebacker at Cal, moments like that."

In that game – four years ago to the day -- tailback Shane Vereen ran the ball 42 times for 193 yards and three touchdowns. This season, Cal has never run the ball more than 51 times in a single game as a team, and the Bears average 35.7 rushes and 126.6 yards per game.

For two weeks after that game, Vereen was a broken man, but he did what needed doing, something Lasco is more than ready to do.

"I can imagine it. Absolutely. You've got to do what you've got to do to help your team, and that's what he did," Lasco said. "When he went out there for 42 carries, if he needed to carry it 60 times, I'm sure he would have done it. That's the game. It's who we are. Whatever they need us for, we're going to do it. That's the approach that we go in with."

Dykes said after Wednesday's practice that, in a way, the best way to play Stanford is to play up to the Cardinal's level of physicality, something that offensive line coach Zach Yenser expressed obliquely last week.

"When you play a physical team like this, you've got to make sure you play physical, and for us, it's all about blocking and tackling," Dykes said. "We need to tackle well, we need to block well. If we can do those two things and execute, then we'll be fine."

The Bears have been preparing for a more physical contest in various ways throughout the week, and having now all four top tailbacks – Lasco, Brendan Bigelow, Khalfani Muhammad and possibly Darren Ervin -- healthy and ready to go could go a long way against the conference's best rushing defense, which has allowed a paltry 91.6 yards per game on the ground.

"We should be pretty good. Bigelow had a great game last game, the first one to rush for over 100 yards of the backs, so that's exciting to have him back," Lasco said. "Khalfani always goes out there and impresses everybody. It's going to be a big line in front, and it's going to be a tough defense. It'll just be hard-nosed football, so I'm excited to see what the front line does. I know each one of us can bust a big one."

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Wide receiver Chris Harper was on the sidelines for much of Wednesday, as he continues to deal with a hip pointer he suffered two weeks ago, and linebacker Khairi Fortt was still in a red jersey.

"Both Harper – probably limited – and Fortt, probably the same thing," Dykes said. "Fortt hasn't practiced much. I'm not real optimistic. Same thing with Harper. He's been dinged and you've got to play fast at that position, and so he hasn't been able to do that. We've used [Harper] at times, just when we felt like we could get a little something out of him. He's a little more sore this week than he has been. We'll see how it plays out. He's more sore than he was last week."

The emergence of Kenny Lawler has done a bit to ameliorate Harper's limitations, and on Wednesday, redshirt sophomore Maurice Harris was in top form again, snatching several eye-opening, acrobatic grabs.

"That helps. Chris is a really good player, and has been a productive guy for us, so it's been disappointing for us, because he's made a lot of plays. We want to try and get him involved, but at the same time, we've got to get healthy," Dykes said of Lawler. "[Harris] looks a little bit like Kenny did in the spring, where he's a little inconsistent across the board, but can make the spectacular play from time to time. Hopefully he'll continue to do that. I think Maurice will have a chance to play a little bit, and hopefully, make some plays."

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An odd statistic that's popped up this year: The Cal defense has just five picks on the year, but more distressingly, the Bears have zero return yards on those interceptions.

"It is a strange stat," Dykes said. "It's been one of those years. We were talking about our second year at Louisiana Tech, we scored a defensive touchdown in six consecutive games, and that's pretty amazing. That's how we got on a run, and those things will happen sometimes, and it seems like when you have a cry stretch, you have a dry stretch, and when you get on a run, you get on a run. It just seems like we're on a little bit of a bad run right now."

USC was able to foil Stanford last week in part because of well-timed turnovers against an offense that ranks eighth in the conference in turnover margin and 65th nationally.

"The thing you have to do is you've got to make them throw it, and the only way you can do that is by stopping the run, so that's what we have to do," Dykes said. "USC's a big, physical team up front and does a good job stopping the run, so it'll be challenging for us. That's our goal and that's the approach we're going to take. We've got to stop the run.

"We're hungry. This football team's hungry, and angry and disappointed and all that, and then you throw the Big Game on top of that, you've got some guys that want to go prove themselves, so it's a good opportunity to do that. I think that our guys want to end the season on a high note, and salvage what we can out of the season. They're working hard."

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