Photo: Jalen Jefferson of the California Golden Bears intercepts a pass intended for Pierre Youngblood-Ary of the Northwestern Wildcats during the second half on August 30, 2014 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. (David Banks/Getty Images)
GOFF, JEFFERSON LEAD CAL TO SEASON-OPENING WIN
EVANSTON, Ill. — The California football team chalked up a victory in their first game of the season, defeating heavily favored Northwestern 31-24 on the Wildcats’ home field. Jared Goff threw for 281 yards and three touchdown passes, one of which was a 76-yarder to Trevor Davis. Northwestern, two touchdown favorites at kickoff, had not lost a season opener in 10 years. But they were stunned by the Bears’ ferocious attack, falling behind 17-0 to begin the 2nd quarter and 24-7 at the half.
Cal asserted itself right from the start, going 79 yards for a touchdown on the game’s opening possession. Goff, who threw for 450 yards and two scores in last year’s loss to the Wildcats, hit Bryce Treggs on fourth down at the 1 to make it 7-0. And things just mounted from there.
Northwestern was then threatening to score when Warren Long got stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Cal 22, and the Golden Bears responded with another touchdown. This time, Goff hit a leaping Kenny Lawler in the end zone for a 7-yarder that made it a 14-point game, and the Golden Bears continued to pour it on.
Cal started its next possession early in the second quarter on the Northwestern 29 after a short punt out of the end zone by Chris Gradone off a bounced snap. That led to a 20-yard field goal by James Langford to bump the lead to 17-0.
Northwestern finally broke through when Siemian connected with Dickerson on a short slant for a 54-yard touchdown with 6:26 left in the half. But any thoughts of a rally got squashed on the next play from scrimmage, when Goff found an open Davis for a 76-yard touchdown, making it 24-7.
Yes, it was revenge for Cal’s tough loss to then-#22 ranked Northwestern a year ago; yes, it was the first FBS win of the Sonny Dykes era; yes, the Cal offense looked balanced and explosive as it roared out to a 31-7 lead. But according to Dykes, it was the fact that the Bears had that huge lead, but then saw Northwestern pull out all the stops with desperation plays, a ravenous home crowd behind them, to claim the momentum in the 4th quarter while scoring 17 unanswered points; and yet Cal still won. Dykes liked the idea that his team had to run through fire to pick up the win. He watched his team evolve from soft to salty.
"I never got the feeling from one player or one coach of ‘here we go again,’" Dykes said after the game. "The guys really believed in each other. And the reason they did is because they have worked so hard. They were prepared. And they knew someone would make a play to give us a chance to win the ball game."
As it turned out, someone made two. On Northwestern’s final drive, Cal’s Jalen Jefferson notched a critical sack on second-and-6 for a loss of 11 yards. On the next play, he snagged the interception that essentially closed out the game.
"It’s been a long few months for us, but we’re a tighter team than we were last year," said Jefferson. "A lot of those breaks we weren’t getting last year, we got them. We can feel things changing for the better."
Added quarterback Goff: ”I think we learned about resiliency. We knew they would fight back and we didn’t give up … we learned how to finish a game.”