BERKELEY -- California began Saturday evening with starting defensive end Brennan Scarlett and projected starting middle linebacker Nick Forbes on the sideline. By the end of the night, starting safety Avery Sebastian was on crutches after a monster 11-tackle first quarter (which included his first career interception), WILL linebacker Khairi Fortt was out after getting his bell rung and defensive end Chris McCain was ejected under the new targeting rule.
For those playing the home game, that's four defensive starters that played less than a full game.
How did the Bears defense respond? If you just look at the raw numbers, not too well. Cal allowed a total of 508 yards of offense (209 rushing, 299 passing) and 30 points. But, Cal got stronger as the game wore on, holding No. 22 Northwestern to 3-of-8 on third downs in the second half and 215 yards of total offense.
Leading the charge were a pair of redshirt freshmen: Hardy Nickerson, Jr., and Michael Barton.
The two recruiting classmates combined for 10 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery.
At the start of the second quarter, Nickerson and Viliami Moala bottled up Wildcats quarterback Trevor Siemian, leading to a sack by defensive end Dan Camporeale, and at the start of the third quarter, Nickerson delivered a vicious hit on Siemian, allowing cornerback Stefan McClure to stick Venric Mark for no gain on second-and-goal at the Cal two-yard line.
After the Bears defense held strong on the goal-line stand, forcing Northwestern to settle for a field goal, Cal pulled to within three on a beautiful 52-yard touch bomb from freshman quarterback Jared Goff to wide receiver Chris Harper.
On the ensuing kickoff, cornerback Joel Willis stripped returner Stephen Buckley at the Wildcats' 27, and Nickerson pounced on the ball to give the Bears another shot at the end zone. After a botched double reverse to Brendan Bigelow set the Bears back to the Northwestern 43, Goff hit Bryce Treggs for 36 yards and then found Harper in the end zone for a seven-yard score, putting Cal up, 24-20.
Nickerson then came up big again on the next Wildcats possession, teaming up with Barton for a big stop on Treyvon Green at the Northwestern 44 to lead to a second consecutive three-and-out for the Wildcats.
Barton was second among Bears linebackers with eight stops, second only to Jalen Jefferson's nine tackles, and with Cal down, 14-7, in the second quarter, nearly came up with his first career pick, diving to his right to break up a second-and-10 pass intended for Dan Vitale.
Jefferson added a personal-best 1.5 TFLs, while safety Alex Logan had his best game as a Bear, with nine tackles and his first career pick. Safety Michael Lowe also had nine tackles, tying his personal best.
DEFENSE: Barton Makes His Mark
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