In a fast-paced, high-scoring opening night matchup at Memorial Stadium, the California Golden Bears fell to the Northwestern Wildcats 44-30 despite a terrific effort from true freshman quarterback Jared Goff in his debut.
Goff completed 38 for 63 for 445 yards, which is second most in school history. He looked and played extremely confident, displaying great poise for someone starting his first game ever at the collegiate level, facing off against a ranked opponent.
However, Goff threw three key interceptions — two were deflected, caught and brought back for touchdowns, and the other was an ill-advised throw — that ultimately were the differences in the game.
The Bears opened things off with a little trickery. On fourth-and-goal from the 10-yard line, Cal performed a fake field goal, and the placekicker Vincenzo D’Amato threw a touchdown pass Jackson Bouza to put the Bears on the board first.
However, the Wildcats came right back, marching downfield on their first possession, finished off by a 33-yard touchdown run by Treyvon Green, running through a gaping hole right up the middle.
Northwestern took the lead in the second quarter on a perfect 19-yard fade pass from Trevor Siemian to Trevor Jones in the right corner of the end zone. They tacked on a field goal to push their advantage to 17-7.
On the ensuing drive, the Bears thought they had a touchdown — twice. On a run play from the Cal 49-yard line, Brandon Bigelow appeared to roll over a would-be-tackler, then continued running into the end zone. It was a ruled a touchdown on the field, but after further review, it was clear that his shoulder touched the ground, and the play was brought back to the 27-yard line. Then, with time running out in the half, Goff threaded the needle to Bryce Treggs in the end zone from 10-yards out, but the pass was a little bit behind Treggs, who couldn’t coral it in.
The Bears went into halftime down 17-10 after a field goal by D’Amato.
The third quarter was an adventurous one, with both teams giving away touchdowns and the game’s pace picking up even faster. Down 20-10, Goff threw a beautiful pass to Chris Harper for a 52-yard touchdown on the Bears’ opening drive of the half. Then, the Wildcats fumbled the kickoff, and the Bears recovered deep in Northwestern territory. Goff then targeted Harper yet again, this time for a seven-yard touchdown in the right corner of the end zone, with Harper making a terrific grab. Just like that, the Bears took a 24-20 lead.
However, the tide would turn back to the other side. After Cal forced a punt, Goff and the offense drove down the field again, but they were derailed by an interception near midfield. Goff’s pass was tipped up and grabbed by Collin Ellis, who eluded several gold jerseys and took it all the way for a touchdown.
The final frame would be dejá vú for the Bears. After a field goal put the Wildcats ahead 30-27, Goff had yet another pass tipped and intercepted by Ellis at the Bears’ 40-yard line, and Ellis took it in for yet another touchdown.
The Bears had one final gasp late. Down by a touchdown, Alex Logan intercepted a long pass by Siemian, giving Cal the ball at midfield. However, on the very first play, Goff threw a deep ball into double coverage that was picked off at the nine-yard line, sealing the game for Northwestern.