SAN FRANCISCO -- The last time that Brendan Bigelow touched a football in a competitive game was roughly a year and a half ago, during the CIF playoffs in his junior year at Fresno (Calif.) Central East.
Bigelow touched the ball just five times on Saturday, but for those five plays, Bigelow was the center of the California football universe, as the Bears blasted FCS opponent Presbyterian by the tally of 63-12 in their home opener at AT&T Park.
"I really enjoyed it, had a good time out there," Bigelow smiled at his first ever college press conference. "I had no idea how much I'd play."
After head coach Jeff Tedford -- who became the program's all-time wins leader with the victory over the Blue Hose -- promised throughout the week that the dynamic four-star recruit would see playing time, Bigelow had two carries for 15 yards, one reception for 11 yards and two electric kickoff returns, including an 88-yard third-quarter scoring scamper to lead off the second half.
"I was really happy to finally get to do something, after not being able to play for about a year and a half," Bigelow said. "That was pretty special, and to get out there and really show what I can do, it was pretty fun."
Bigelow's 88-yard return at the start of the second half -- in which the true freshman received the ball at the Bears' 25-yard line and scampered untouched up the left sideline -- was Cal's first kickoff return for a score since Lavelle Hawkins took one back 90 yards against Tennessee in 2007.
"I like running the rock," Bigelow said. "It's my favorite thing. Kickoff return is probably my second-best."
Tedford said that Cal fans would likely see the dynamic athlete again in kickoff return situations, to take advantage of his speed.
"He ran hard, we threw him a couple balls out in the flat, he held onto the football and made some guys miss, so a lot of positives there, for him," Tedford said. "He returned a couple kickoffs, and obviously the one that he returned for a touchdown, I don't even think he got touched. Any time you don't touch someone with that kind of speed, you can predict the results. He'll be in there, doing that, now."
There were several forehead-slapping moments -- like two, 15-yard penalties on Cal's first offensive drive and 89 first-half penalty yards, a pick six and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown by the Blue Hose -- but thanks to Bigelow, the Bears' home opener in front of 33,952 was a satisfactory -- if far from perfect -- opening act.
"It was odd," Tedford said. "I hope next time we come here it's a little more like home field advantage, because it was very quiet out there. We're used to having our student section right behind us, where it really creates a buzz and an energy. It felt really dead out there, today, to tell you the truth, so I hope we're able to fill it up, get going and create a buzz in there and put the pressure on opponents with home field advantage. Today, it just seemed kind of weird."
Aside from a displaced student section, Tedford was also displeased with the amount of penalties that Cal accumulated, particularly in the first half.
"We had three offensive facemasks at one point," said junior quarterback Zach Maynard. "We just have to let the petty stuff go and just play ball."
"We had way too many penalties; one is too many," he said. "We've just got to clean it up and play the football we know how to play."
The Bears finished the day with 10 penalties for 94 yards, which included one of the Blue Hose' three first downs.
"It's huge to start 3-0, but I think we all know what's in store, going into conference play," Tedford said. "It's very competitive, we go on the road to Washington, we know what type of environment that is, it's going to be tough and every week, every opponent in the Pac-12, is highly-competitive and we're going to need to play our best. We didn't play well enough today. There were way too many mistakes today. We had 10 penalties, kept putting ourselves in long-yardage situations with penalties. That just isn't good enough. We can't hurt ourselves. Penalties were like one every other play in the first half."
Though fans were not able to see the live statistics on the scoreboard out in center field, Cal (3-0) jumped out to an early -- and significant -- advantage after just one quarter, sprinting out to a 14-0 lead on rushing touchdowns by Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson.
In fact, the tailback position was perhaps the most exciting spot to watch on the field, as no fewer than five players registered carries in the 42-12 first half, and each of the tailbacks in the rotation -- Sofele, Anderson, Bigelow, Dasarte Yarnway, Mike Manuel and Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson -- saw at least two carries throughout the entire game.
Sofele finished with 17 carries for a career-high 105 yards and a touchdown, his first-ever 100-yard performance. In all, Anderson, Sofele, DeBoskie-Johnson and Yarnway each recorded rushing touchdowns, but it was Bigelow that was the most exciting.
Bigelow toted in an organized game for the first time in nearly two years when he took a catch just under seven minutes left in the first quarter. After Sofele gained five yards from first-and-10 at midfield, Bigelow hauled in a screen pass on the right side and skittered up field for an 11-yard gain.
After two anterior cruciate ligament tears in his right knee within the course of a year, Bigelow got some butterflies.
"I was a little nervous, but as the game went on, I got pretty comfortable," Bigelow said.
Sofele gained a hard-won 10 yards on the next play over left tackle, and once again, Anderson took an inside-zone handoff up the middle for the first score of the game. Anderson set career highs with seven carries for 50 yards.
"He helps me stay fresh, definitely," Sofele said of Anderson. "He's a great running back."
Sofele found paydirt twice on Cal's next two possessions, before Maynard struck for a score through the air.
After overthrowing wide-open senior Marvin Jones downfield on first-and-10, Maynard's pass to redshirt freshman tight end Jacob Wark was bobbled and dropped. On third-and-10, Maynard looked left, then right to find his brother Keenan Allen, but Jones -- having already seen Maynard find little brother Allen a team-high 13 times on the season already -- seemed to jump his own teammate's route and took the ball himself, streaking from right to left across the field to snag the toss and break free for a 51-yard score up the left sideline.
"It was a nice play by us to come off the ball that we had missed before that play, so we decided to reconnect and get back into the phase of the game," Maynard said. "Marv ran a great route, got on top of his guy and had great leverage. He came across the middle, and he almost ran into Keenan, but I guess Keenan thought I was going to throw it back-shoulder to him, but luckily, he got out of the way just in time and Marv turned it into a great play."
Tedford wasn't shy about lightly reprimanding his young star on the sidelines afterwards, and there were no ill feelings between Allen and Jones.
"Actually, that was going to Marvin, and Keenan tried to slow up and make it his," Tedford smiled. "When he got to the side, I said, 'Not every ball is intended for you.' He was supposed to run a clearing route and then he comes off of him, and any ball in Keenan's area, he wants it, so he's got to understand that sometimes he needs to be the sponge and not always the guy who's the intended target."
Jones tallied the sixth 100-yard receiving game of his career, and second of the season, hauling in a game-high seven passes for 123 yards.
Right behind him was Allen, who caught six balls for 85 yards and a score.
Cal scored on four of its first five possessions against the overmatched Blue Hose (1-2), as Maynard completed 15 of his 25 passes to seven different receivers, and after his first TD strike to Jones, he went on to record two more touchdowns through the air before relinquishing the offense to redshirt sophomore Allan Bridgford.
"He still needs to be more consistent," Tedford said of Maynard. "He missed a couple balls, got fooled on the interception. He thought it was zone and it was man, and he got fooled on that one. But, we just have to be a little bit more accurate, more consistent, with his play. The receivers made some great catches today on some balls. Spencer Hagan, on the touchdown throw down there, was a great catch. He was wide open and he put that ball on him. We had Marv running deep on a deep post, wide open, and we missed him, so all those things are things we can improve on.
After dropping an easy catch on first-and-10 from the Cal 39 with 8:33 left in the first half, Hagan redeemed himself on the very next Bears possession. To finish off a drive sparked by Bigelow -- who took his first kickoff return of his career up the left sideline for 23 yards -- Maynard found Hagan wide open over the middle in the back of the end zone to make it 35-6. That was Hagan's first career reception and his first career touchdown.
"You've just got to get the ball to the guys that are capable of making great plays and getting a touchdown," Maynard said. "We have a lot of weapons, a lot of skilled guys. They all have different attributes to go to during the course of a game. Hagan, he has a lot of control over his body, and he turned around nicely, and I felt like I almost overthrew him. I slipped as I stepped into the ball, and he turned around, jumped in the air and grabbed it. It was a great catch by him."
There was one big blemish on Maynard's record. Presbyterian free safety Justin Bethel notched a pick-six off Maynard late in the second quarter -- the first time the junior has seen one of his picks taken back for a score.
"We did a good job today, but the offense as a whole, we still have a lot of mental errors that we need to work on," Maynard said. "We need to shake that off in practice, get in there this week, watch film and see what we did wrong to get ready for next week."
Bethel wound up providing all the Blue Hose' scoring on the day, blocking senior Bryan Anger's first real punt of the day on fourth-and-eight at the Cal 41 with 7:28 left in the first half.
Senior tight end Anthony Miller lost containment on his punt protection assignment, allowing Bethel to break through, perhaps showing why the senior was instructed to roll out for his previous boots. Senior placekicker Giorgio Tavecchio was perfect for the first time this season on PATs.
"That blocked punt for a touchdown, we need to get better with certain things," Tedford said. "The extra-point thing, I think, we have figured out, and I think we're in good shape there, but absolutely, the kicking game, we cannot allow that. It's something we need to get fixed, because it's concerning."
With 2:59 left before halftime, Bethel struck for his pick six.
In his first collegiate action, Bridgford went 4-for-10 passing for 77 yards in the second half, before being relieved by senior Brock Mansion.
Bridgford's first completion on his first series came to Jones, who he hit on an inside slant route over the middle for a 33-yard gain, after coming up empty on his first two tries.
"He did alright," Tedford said of Bridgford. "He did a couple things -- for a young guy -- that he'll learn from. But, I thought he threw a nice ball down the middle, and it was good to get him in there and get his feet wet a little bit. That was really important."
Bridgford who entered with five minutes left in the game, completing a pass to Quinn Tedford, the first career reception for the head coach's youngest son.
"That doesn't happen every day," said an emotional Tedford after the game.
After a dismal performance against Colorado last week in Boulder, the Bears defense got fat against Presbyterian, abusing sophomore quarterback Ryan Singer and senior signal-caller Brandon Miley to the tune of five sacks. Cal tallied nine tackles for loss, as youngsters Mustafa Jalil, Viliami Moala, Cecil Whiteside and Chris McCain each saw significant snaps. McCain and Whiteside wreaked havoc on the outside edge, combining for four tackles and a sack as they manned the outside linebacker spots for the vast majority of the game. Jalil recorded four tackles and half a sack, while true freshman Stefan McClure was second on the team with five tackles -- most of those on special teams.
The Bears defense held the Blue Hose to just three first downs, 48 total offensive yards and no touchdowns.
"Well, with all due respect, that's not a group that we're going to see every week," Tedford said. "Yes, it's great and I don't want to take anything away from our defense, either. They really played hard and rallied hard to the ball and things like that, and it was nice for them to bounce back from a game like that, but next week is a different test, obviously."
"To start out 3-0 is good, but we've got a lot to go from here," said Summers-Gavin. "We're going to Washington next week, playing in a hostile environment, and it's going to be much better competition, so we definitely have got to get ready next week, get real prepared."
-- Redshirt freshman Michael Coley -- who had two tackles -- left the game with a sprained foot.
"Instead of letting him continue to run on it, for precautionary reasons, we put him in a boot, and he was on crutches," Tedford said.
-- Cal's 51-point margin of victory is the third-largest in the Tedford era, and the Bears 63 total points are the third-highest point total under Tedford.
Stay tuned for more in-depth coverage of the Bears' home opener.