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BERKELEY -- Despite 38 completions for 445 yards, and despite becoming the first California quarterback to throw for over 300 yards in his first start since Justin Vedder in 1997, Bears freshman Jared Goff will only remember one number from his college debut: 3.
Goff threw three interceptions -- two pick-sixes and a fourth-quarter pick down at the nine-yard line after Alex Logan’s first career interception gave Cal late life with just under four minutes left -- in the Bears’ 44-30 loss to No. 22 Northwestern.
Goff finished the day 38-for-63 for 445 yards with two touchdowns.
“It was a heck of a way to start,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “I thought it was a heck of a performance by a young kid, to throw for 445 yards in your first ballgame is pretty impressive.”
But, Dykes later said, the two pick-sixes “proved to be the difference in the game.”
“There’s a lot of stuff I can do better,” Goff said. “Reads, I had some mess-ups, I had some bad luck, but that’s no excuse. I’ve got to stay sharper and get better.”
The first two interceptions were, arguably, not Goff’s fault. The first was tipped at the line of scrimmage, and the second went through the hands of sophomore Darius Powe before landing in the hands of Collin Ellis at the Bears’ 40-yard line.
“Running out there in the beginning was fun, and we played well throughout the game, we played great through the whole game, and it’s just super disappointing,” Goff said.
The third, though, was to Chris Harper down field in double coverage, all but snuffing out Cal’s chance for an opening-night comeback.
“I just threw a bad ball. You can’t put that much air under it. It was there, I just made a bad pass,” Goff said of his third pick.
Cal (0-1) ran a program-record 99 plays, with 63 passes attempted by Goff. The 64 total passes were a program record for a single game.
“It came down to the team who made the fewest mistakes, and we made more mistakes down the stretch than they did,” said Dykes. “We’ll learn a lot from this game. I thought we played hard. I thought we showed that we have what it takes to be a good football team. We made too many mistakes, but that’s what you’re going to do as a young football team. It doesn’t get any easier from here. We’ve got a tough schedule, and we’ve got to keep improving.”
The Bears lost more than the season opener on Saturday, as starting safety Avery Sebastian had a triumphant night cut short just after the start of the second quarter, going down with a right ankle injury and not returning. Cal also lost WILL linebacker Khairi Fortt at the end of the first quarter, and then, after holding the Wildcats to two straight three-and-outs and tying the game at 27-27 in the third quarter, starting defensive end Chris McCain was ejected under the new targeting rule following a hit on Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian.
“All they told me is that it was targeting,” Dykes said. “It’s obviously something we can’t do, and Chris will be suspended for the first half of next week’s game.”
The Wildcats also suffered a rash of injuries, as no fewer than seven Northwestern defensive players went down with cramps.
“It seemed like every time we would make a first down, they would have an injury,” said Dykes, who was slightly less diplomatic than his first-year quarterback. “I hadn’t seen that, wasn’t expecting that.”
Asked outright if he thought the Wildcats were feigning injuries, Dykes said, “It’s probably better if I don’t say.”
“I’m not going to talk about that,” Goff said, when asked about the cramping epidemic.
More seriously, the Wildcats lost starting quarterback Kain Colter after the first offensive series – a five-play, 75-yard scoring drive. That loss, though, may have been a case of addition by subtraction, as Colter’s more pass-happy backup Siemian went 18-for-27 for 276 yards and one touchdown and the Sebastian interception.
"We had to make a few adjustments, but both guys take a lot of reps in practice," said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "I think the staff does a terrific job of getting both guys prepared and a terrific job by Trevor. he did some things he'd probably like ot have back, but still, going into the game probably not expecting to be the starter and then being thrust into the starting role, I thought he handled it pretty well. I had no idea if Kain was coming back into the game. Siemian is ready to go. We've had starter 1A and 1B for a couple years. Although he didn't go out there on the first play, he still operates like he's the starter. he gets a ton of reps."
With dueling scores to open the game – with Cal’s coming on a fake field goal, with an over-the-shoulder toss from holder Jackson Bouza to kicker Vince D’Amato returned to sender for a seven-yard score – the two spread teams racked up 250 yards in the first quarter.
Dykes said of the fake field goal that it was designed to send a message to the players as much as it was designed to score.
“It was one of those things where you had to get a feel for it, and we had a particular look that we were looking for, and they gave us the look,” Dykes said. “I thought we needed to play incredibly aggressive. I thought our players needed to see that, as coaches, we were playing to win, not to not lose. I thought that was very, very important to send that message to our players, and, quite frankly, to our fans.”
Before halftime, sophomore receiver Bryce Treggs had tallied career highs in both receiving yards (70) and receptions (6), while Brendan Bigelow ripped off 76 rushing yards on just nine attempts – and nearly broke the century mark on a barrel roll over linebacker Collin Ellis late in the first half, but the play was called back because while rolling back-first over Ellis, Bigelow’s shoulder just grazed the ground at the 27-yard line.
In the second quarter, both teams seemed to slow down, as the Wildcats crept ahead, 20-10 and the Bears ran – on average -- one play every 19 seconds – slower than Louisiana Tech’s pace last season.
After halftime, though, the Bears mounted a furious comeback at the hands of Goff, who went 15-for-19 for 206 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the third quarter, alone.
The Bears ripped off two unanswered scoring drives coming out of the locker room, each taking less than a minute, and each ending in a Harper TD, including a 52-yard perfect-touch strike from Goff over the top.
“We knew the post was going to be there for Chris,” Goff said. "That was really it. We came out and just did what we've always been doing. We don't think about the score too much, and it worked out pretty well in the third quarter."
The sophomore Biletnikoff Award Watch List member set career highs for catches and receiving yards, as he and Treggs became the first pair of Bears wide receivers to go over 100 receiving yards in the same game since Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones turned the trick in 2011 against Fresno State. Harper finished with 11 catches for a game-high 153 yards, and Treggs caught a game-high 12 balls for 138 yards.
The third quarter that started off so well for Goff, though, ended on a sour note, as he delivered the first of his two pick-sixes to Collins, who took back a 56-yard interception for a touchdown with 4:40 left in the quarter.
After a 17-play drive at the end of the third ended in a fourth-quarter, 38-yard field goal by D’Amato, the Wildcats tallied a 32-yard field goal of their own, and then Ellis’s second interception return. A six-yard Treyvon Green touchdown with 1:51 left in the game iced the victory.
-- Sebastian’s injury is to his right ankle. There is no firm diagnosis yet. Despite leaving early, his 11 tackles led all Cal defenders.
-- Fortt and Bigelow both suffered hits to their heads.
-- Right guard Matt Cochran went down with 6:08 left in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. He was replaced by Alex Crosthwaite.