BERKELEY -- If the only thing Cal fans were looking for in Saturday’s season opener against No. 22 Northwestern was reason for optimism, they got it.
True freshman quarterback Jared Goff turned in a historic performance in coach Sonny Dykes’ debut, throwing for 445 yards and a pair of scores. It just wasn’t enough to end a five-game losing streak as three costly interceptions derailed the Golden Bears in a 44-30 loss before 58,816 people at Memorial Stadium.
The 445 yards ranks as the second-highest single-game total in school history behind the 503 Pat Barnes threw for in a four-OT game against Arizona in 1996. Goff, who became the first true freshman quarterback in school history to start an opener, completed 38 of a school-record 63 attempts.
"Once he settled in the game started to slow down for him," Dykes said. "I thought he really played well in the second half. We had the two balls that were tipped that flew right to their players, which proved to be the difference in the ballgame."
Both tipped interceptions fell into the arms of Collin Ellis and he returned both for scores. Cal had scored back-to-back touchdowns on passes of 52 and seven yards from Goff to Chris Harper and led 24-20 when Ellis returned his first pick 56 yards with four minutes, 40 seconds left in the third quarter. After the teams traded field goals, he returned his second 40 yards to put the Wildcats up 37-27 with 7:57 left.
An 11-play, 62-yard drive netted the Bears a field goal and a quick interception from Alex Logan gave Goff a chance, down 37-30, to guide the Bears on a potential game-tying drive from midfield with 3:47 left.
It ended before it had a chance to start.
Goff tried to hit Harper deep in double coverage on the drive’s first play, but was picked off for a final time.
“Just threw a bad ball. It was open, I just can’t put that much air under it,” Goff said. “You got to throw it on a line. It was there, I just made a bad pass.”
Northwestern responded with a touchdown drive to put the game away.
Sophomore receivers shine: There was every reason to believe sophomore receivers Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs would build off their impressive freshmen seasons -- especially with the arrival of Dykes -- but their production against Northwestern equated to several giant steps forward. Their combined catch total (24) represents 39 percent of their combined total from a year ago (62).
Treggs’ 13 catches for 145 yards matched the third-best single-game reception performance in school history (shared by four players) and Harper (11 catches, 151 yards, 2 TD) appeared even more dangerous.
McCain ejected: Cal rush end Chris McCain was ejected with 10:24 left in the game for targeting Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian. It’s a new rule this season in college football aimed at protecting against concussions. McCain will be forced to miss the first half of Cal’s next game.
Dykes couldn’t offer an opinion on the hit because he didn’t see it live, nor on replay.
What's next: The Bears will host FCS Portland State on Saturday at 2 p.m. Then it’s back into the meat grinder that is their schedule: Cal hosts No. 2 Ohio State a week later, then travels to No. 3 Oregon two weeks after that.