Players to watch: Brendan Bigelow, Chris Coyle

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Brendan Bigelow, Cal running back

Brendan Bigelow is going to touch the ball against Arizona State, it’s just a question of how many times. The sophomore had an electrifying performance against Ohio State (two touchdowns and 160 yards on four rushes). Bigelow was supposed to be the future, but he may as well be the present. Despite being the third-string running back, Bigelow has been the most effective one of late. Isi Sofele struggled against USC, tallying just 16 yards on eight carries, and C.J. Anderson is averaging fewer than 40 yards a game on the season. After spinning his way 81 yards for a touchdown at the Horseshoe, defenses key on him. Maybe he’ll be used as a decoy, or maybe next to Zach Maynard in the shotgun. Whatever the way, Bigelow is too talented, too fast, too dynamic to carry the ball just four times a game. With a long list of injured tight ends, Cal’s seemingly endless stable of tailbacks might be called on to line up in the slot — or, at the very least, catch passes out of the backfield. Bigelow is arguably the Bears’ best overall playmaker on offense after Keenan Allen. Get the ball to No. 5 in the open field, and he’ll take it from there.

Chris Coyle, Arizona State tight end

After two quiet season in Tempe, tight end Chris Coyle has exploded onto the scene his junior season. He has become quarterback Taylor Kelly’s favorite target, with 22 receptions for 301 yards and two scores, all tops on the team. Coyle’s 75.2 receiving yards per game are just two shy of Cal star Keenan Allen. Coyle had a nice opener against Northern Arizona on Aug. 30, but his coming-out party came the next week against Illinois. Coyle caught 10 passes (equating to more than half of Kelly’s receptions) for a whipping 131 yards and two touchdowns. With speedy wide receivers, such as Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles, on the outside, the Sun Devils have the ability to utilize the size of Coyle in the middle of the field. Coyle has the strength to break the tackles of smaller defensive backs and the quickness to gain serious yardage after knocking them down. The Bears have had some difficult defending tight ends in their last two games, probably due to their emphasis on speedy receivers and elite quarterbacks. Nevertheless, Ohio State’s Jake Stoneburner caught a 40-yard pass to go with two short touchdown receptions two weeks ago. USC’s tight end tandem Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer of combined for four catches for 55 yards last Saturday. Cal can’t forget about Arizona State’s tight end, because he can rack up yards in a hurry.

Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at [email protected]