Seeking program-defining win, Cal football battles Ohio State

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Last year against Ohio State, with two spin moves, a broken tackle, 81 yards and a touchdown, Cal running back Brendan Bigelow went from unknown backup to Internet sensation overnight.

And for his encore, the junior will look to lead the Cal football team to a program-defining win over the No. 4 Buckeyes when Ohio State visits Memorial Stadium at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Bigelow was able to take Ohio State — and the nation — by surprise last season. But after taking 4 carries for 160 yards and a pair of scores, it’s probably fair to say he’ll be on the radar this time around.

“I’m pretty sure they know who I am now,” Bigelow said. “It’s definitely going to be more difficult.”

If the Bears are to have any chance, they’ll need a big performance from Bigelow, along with the rest of the running backs. Cal has been beyond prolific through the air, but its ground game has struggled thus far in 2013, gaining just 220 yards on the season, which puts it 93rd in the country.

“We’ve got to be able to run the ball,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “This is not a team that you just drop back 70 times and throw the football. We’ve got to establish a run game and take a little bit of heat off our offensive line.”

They’ll also need to use the ground game to take some heat off a defense that has, at its best, looked porous and, at its worst, looked laughable. Cal is coming off a performance in which it let Portland State rack up 30 points on 553 total yards — stats that probably have coach Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes salivating.

The Bears have been ravaged by injuries on defense, and they will need a handful of underclassmen to step up this weekend.

“When that happens, there’s going to be growing pains,” Dykes said. “I’m not into the excuse stuff, but it is what it is. You can’t say it doesn’t exist.”

Those growing pains are going to be on full display Saturday, as the Bears will likely face quarterback Braxton Miller, whom many of them know all too well. In the 2012 matchup, Miller torched Cal for four scores, including a 72-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass that gave his  squad the final lead of the game.

Though Miller’s status for Saturday remains day-to-day as he nurses a sprained MCL, Meyer said he was “optimistic” he would play — which could be bad news for the Bears.

“There’s just not a lot of guys in college football that possess the skill set that he possesses and have the strength and speed that he does,” Dykes said.

Still, should the Bears find a way to fill the gaps in their sievelike defense and keep pace with Ohio State’s explosive offense, Dykes would have the marquee victory that every new coach craves and needs. And what better a stage to do so on than against the Buckeyes on national television?

“When you play against a team that is as highly regarded Ohio State, you do see it as an opportunity,” Dykes said. “A challenge, but an opportunity as well.”

Connor Byrne covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ctbyrne91.