IN-DEPTH: Harper Out

Cal will be without wide receiver Chris Harper this weekend against Stanford, so how will the Bears make up for the loss of their leading playmaker? Could Stanford be just as hurt in the defensive backfield? We go beyond the injury and analyze just what the Bear Raid will look like on Saturday.

BERKELEY -- As if facing the best rushing defense in the conference with the conference's third-worst rushing offense wasn't enough for California in the 116th Big Game this Saturday, the Bears will have to square off with Stanford without one of their top two wide receivers – preseason Biletnikoff Award Watch List member Chris Harper, who leads Cal with 852 yards on 70 receptions.

Harper suffered a hip pointer early in the game against USC, was barely a factor last week against Colorado, or against the Trojans, and was severely limited in practice this week.

"It's a bummer," head coach Sonny Dykes said on Thursday. "He's been a playmaker for us all year, and hadn't gotten healthy. We wish we had him, but he's not going to be available."

Over the past two games, Harper has just eight catches for a total of 31 yards.

"He's been trying to work through it, and got to the point where he couldn't do it anymore, so we're going to shelve him and get him ready for next year," Dykes said.

That news comes on the heels of Stanford losing the services of top cornerback Alex Carter. Carter had 50 tackles on the season, with one interception, one tackle for loss, three breakup sand four passes defended.

The loss of Harper likely puts more on the shoulders of emergent Z receiver Kenny Lawler and Bears leading receiver Bryce Treggs (76 catches for 713 yards).

"Obviously, Kenny's done some good things, and Chris has bounced around between Z and H," Dykes said. "Kenny will handle the Z and then we'll do it kind of like we've done it most of the year at H – by committee. Darius [Powe] will take most of it, but kind of by committee."

Without Harper, a premium will be placed on establishing a running game, which Cal had not done until facing the Buffaloes last weekend, when Brendan Bigelow became the first Bears tailback to surpass 100 yards in a single game this season.

"It felt really good," Bigelow told BearTerritory this week. "I put in a lot of work. I've been keeping my spirits up. The season hasn't been going too well, but I'm staying positive and keeping a good head on my shoulders."

Bigelow had bounced around between tailback and inside receiver for much of the season, after fumbling problems early on, but over the past two games, has rushed 17 times for 124 yards.

"I just kept taking it one day at a time, and one rep at a time, and just kept eating at it and getting better every day," Bigelow said. "I've been ready to go. I've been wanting to run the ball for a while, but there are steps, and you've got to take those steps to get to what you want to do, where you want to be. It felt good. I felt like I'm back to normal."

Bigelow and Daniel Lasco -- along with Darren Ervin (listed as probabele) and Khalfani Muhammad -- will be faced with what's been deemed the strongest front seven the Cardinal have produced in years.

Stanford is not only the conference's top rushing defense (91.6 yards per game allowed), but the Cardinal are also the Pac-12's third scoring defense, and have produced 32 sacks on the season, the second-most in the league.

While the Bears have struggled mightily on third down (their 34.8% conversion rate is 10th in the conference), Stanford is second in the Pac-12 in opponent third down conversion rate, holding opposing offenses to 33.6%.

Unless Cal – the conference's third-worst rushing offense – can get a running game going (and the offensive line may have some surprises in store in that regard), the absences of Harper and Carter may not make any difference, particularly if the Bears can't make any hay on first and second downs.

Before the Bears shuffled the starting offensive line, Cal was averaging 3.67 yards per rush (minus sacks) on first downs, while averaging 7.5 yards per passing attempt with five interceptions, five sacks and six fumbles in seven games.

In the four games since Jordan Rigsbee was moved from left guard to center, freshman Chris Borrayo moved to left guard and Christian Okafor to left tackle, the Bears have averaged 6.91 yards per carry on first down, and averaged 5.92 yards per passing attempt, but with no interceptions, three sacks and no fumbles.

"Every game's a challenge," Bigelow said. "I'm going into this game focusing on the little details, and going out there and just having fun. They're good on film. They're really good, but I'm still going to go out there and have fun and do what I need to do."

Last season, Bigelow carried the ball just twice for no yards, and caught two passes for 40 yards. The year before, he didn't touch the ball once. He's never been in the kind of physical meat grinder that he'll be thrown into on Saturday.

"This will be the first, but I'm ready to go, though," Bigelow said.

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