BERKELEY -- The week after gaining more yards than any opposing running back in the 90-year history of Ohio State's home stadium last season, Cal's Brendan Bigelow didn't get the ball until the second half at USC.

A week after that, zero carries against Arizona State.

"It was challenging and frustrating at times," Bigelow said.

For Cal fans, too, who wondered why the Bears were not utilizing their most dynamic weapon in a season that spiraled to a 3-9 final record.

The formula should change beginning Saturday night when the Golden Bears open their first season under coach Sonny Dykes against No. 22 Northwestern.

"He's a guy who can make big plays and be explosive, but we don't want him to just do that," Dykes said. "We want him to be a back who can do everything."

California running back Brendan Bigelow, left, eludes the tackle of Avery Sebastian during an intrasquad scrimmage, Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 at Memorial
California running back Brendan Bigelow, left, eludes the tackle of Avery Sebastian during an intrasquad scrimmage, Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group)

That wasn't the case a year ago, when despite averaging 9.8 yards per rush -- including 160 yards on four carries against the Buckeyes -- Bigelow had just one game with more than six rushing attempts.

The unspoken reason was his inability to digest former coach Jeff Tedford's massive offensive playbook. The coaches loved his speed but weren't sure they could trust him.

Asked if the volume of information he needed to absorb could be overwhelming, Bigelow acknowledged, "At times."

Pass blocking? "I was horrible at it," he conceded.

For Bigelow, who barely played as a freshman while recovering from a high school ACL knee injury, 2012 felt like his rookie collegiate season.


Advertisement

"This being my first time out there, I'd get a little nervous. I think everybody gets like that," Bigelow said. "There's no hard feelings with the old coaches. I love them, it was a great staff."

He also loves the new Bear Raid spread option offense.

"I'm so much more comfortable than I was before," Bigelow said. "I'm not thinking so much. I'm just basically playing ball now."

Dykes, whose Louisiana Tech team led the nation in scoring and total offense last season, said Bigelow has "picked up everything fast," despite sitting out spring ball to rehab after surgery that repaired a torn meniscus in his right knee.

"We're probably a little simpler scheme, and I think he's probably a little more mature," Dykes said. "That's made it easy for him. I think it's better for everybody."

Running backs coach Pierre Ingram said Bigelow helped himself over the summer by studying how the offense functions on Louisiana Tech game tapes. "He wants to be great," Ingram said. "He knows he has the talent."

Bigelow also seems physically ready to go. He will wear a brace on his knee but has no swelling or soreness. "I think it's 100 percent," Dykes said.

Said receiver Chris Harper: "I'm definitely seeing a lot of glimpses of how he used to be."

There still are holes in his game the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Bigelow is working to eliminate. He needs to prove himself as a capable receiver and blocker, and he has to get tough yards.

Not once last season was Bigelow thrown for a loss on a run, but 11 of his 44 carries went for no more than 1 yard. "He needs to cram a 2-yard gain in there," Dykes said, if he wants the ball in short-yardage situations.

Bigelow doesn't know how many carries he'll get each week and Dykes has said Daniel Lasco, Khalfani Muhammad and Darren Ervin also will be utilized to keep a fresh back in the lineup.

"We're going to be explosive," Bigelow predicted. "I'm so excited now just thinking about it, getting these chills. I'm ready to go."

Saturday's opener

Northwestern at Cal, 7:30 p.m. ESPN2