1. Khalfani Muhammad is this year's version of last year's Brendan Bigelow.
California's true freshman tailback can block, he can run and he can catch. That actually puts him one up on 2012 Bigelow.
With No. 2 back Daniel Lasco unable to go because of hamstring tightness, it was up to Muhammad to spell Bigelow when needed.
"He stepped in and did a great job," said freshman quarterback Jared Goff. "We knew he'd have to step in for Lasco, and he's a big-time player. He made big-time plays."
After Bigelow was tripped up on second-and-two at the Vikings' 38 early in the first quarter, Muhammad took a handoff around the left edge and just hit the gas, accelerating away from the Portland State defense, stopping at the four only because the Vikings had their safeties playing deep.
Muhammad then punched in the score, untouched, for the first rushing touchdown of his career.
With less than four minutes left in the first half Goff unloaded to Muhammad from his own 15, and the generously-listed 5-foot-8, 175-pounder reeled in the bomb at the opposing 30, and proceeded to drag the Portland State defender at his heels another seven yards, leading to a field goal that put the Bears up, 37-30
Muhammad touched the ball 17 times and gained a total of 153 all-purpose yards.
While Darren Ervin returned the bulk of the kickoffs, Muhammad was back to receive. The Vikings just kicked away from him.
"Every opportunity I get, I just want to go out there and score," Muhammad said. "I want teams to fear me. I hope they keep kicking away from me."
2. When you get the ball to Richard Rodgers, good things happen.
With just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter, Cal was still trailing an FCS opponent. Then, Goff found Richard Rodgers. On first-and-10 at his own 25, Goff found Rodgers on the left, where the second-generation Cal star deeked Dennis Fite clear out of his shoes, then got a crushing block from Bryce Treggs to clear out two defenders and, with 20 yards to go, Rodgers saw a charging Dean Faddis coming his way, and just stopped, allowing the senior strong safety to fly into the Bears sideline, and giving the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Rodgers an uninterrupted path to the end zone.
That touchdown put Cal up for good. On the afternoon, Rodgers hauled in four passes for 100 yards on the day, and was the Bears' second-leading receiver behind Treggs, who pulled down eight balls for 121 yards. Fittingly enough, Rodgers paid Treggs back for the big block later in the third, by tipping a high pass by Goff off his left hand and into Treggs' breadbasket for a gain of 13.
3. What to make of the offensive line?
The Bears offensive front did not get penalized until the 45th minute of play, a long way from the early miscues that marred the opener and killed two big drives. In the early goings of the second quarter, right guard Matt Cochran set a hard edge to hold a gap for Bigelow to get nine yards after turning the corner on first-and-10 at the Cal 35, showing the emphasis on finishing blocks that Zach Yenser has been harping on all week.
But, the right side was still a bit leaky, allowing unnecessary pressure on Goff at the start of the fourth quarter, which forced him to throw a ball away during a promising drive, and forcing the offense into a third-and-eight.
Early in the fourth quarter, Goff was sacked after getting tangled up in his own offensive line, specifically Steven Moore. That drive ended in a 46-yard field goal miss by Vincenzo D'Amato -- his first miss of the season.
Cal's rushing game was certainly more robust than it was in the opener, gaining over 100 yards, but it took the Bears nearly 40 runs to do it against a Football Championship Subdivision team. The Cal line also allowed five sacks.
"It's definitely a concern," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "I felt like last week, we didn't we finished particularly well on the offensive line, so we challenged them to finish better. If you go back and look at the tape today, they played better. They blocked better. Just coming off the field, I felt like we moved it more up front and finished blocks more than we did last week. We had guys in space a lot today, one-on-one with the safety, and just didn't make a play. I thought [David Edgerson], their safety, is a very good football player. He really ran the alley well and supported the run. When we get in one-on-ones, we've got to be able to make more than two or three yards."
4. Goff's arm. ‘Nuff said.
Jared Goff keeps on marching through the Bears history books. On Saturday, he became the second Cal quarterback to ever throw for 400 yards in back-to-back games, going 33-for-51 (with five drops, including one in the end zone) for 485 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions (though there was one near miss). Of Cal's 17 plays of over 10 yards, Goff was responsible for all but three, and he even ripped off a sliding, 17-yard rush in the fourth quarter. His most impressive toss was a liner to Darius Powe on a quick out to the sideline for 11 yards late in the fourth quarter to keep the game-salting possession alive.
Goff's second straight game over 300 yards passing is the first time a Cal QB has pulled that trick since Aaron Rodgers did it in the final three games of 2003.
Goff averaged 14.7 yards per completion, and 9.5 yards per attempt, despite facing more pressure than perhaps he expected, with the Vikings out-sacking No. 22 Northwestern by tallying five sacks on Goff, while the Wildcats only notched four.
5. The defense. Oy vey.
Dykes said it best: "If we come out like that against Ohio State, they'll run us off the field in the first half."
The Vikings came out with formations unfamiliar to defensive coordinator Andy Buh -- who spent two seasons practicing against the pistol as Nevada's defensive coordinator under pistol pioneer Chris Ault.
"It was a really disappointing start to the football game. It took us, as a defensive staff, and as a defensive unit, [time] to settle in there," said Buh.
Dykes admitted that the second play from scrimmage for Portland State – an 81-yard touchdown to Kasey Closs against safety Alex Logan -- "jarred" the sideline.
"They had showed us a formation that we hadn't practiced, and it took us a good two or three series to get it ironed out and the adjustments made. We just couldn't get those adjustments down to them fast enough," Buh said. "When you break down a team that runs the pistol, and you're breaking down their entire season, you put these kids through every scenario in a week's time. We put those guys in a lot of situations this week that we thought they could get into, and we didn't get into any of those situations. The zone read wasn't even there. They didn't do the zone read, which is really surprising, because that's something they do really well. They came in with just their stretch, and that gave us an issue, because that's not something we'd seen them do over the course of a season."
The Bears allowed a staggering 434 yards of offense to the FCS Vikings in the first half, including 21 rushes for 176 yards.
"The past two games, we've had two offenses that are prolific running football teams," said Buh, who's defensive line has only tallied half a sack through two games. "When, particularly with Portland State, they're a downhill running team, so to let them [the defensive linemen] go loose vertically would be insane. We have to do a better job in those situations. Partly, that's due to me not blitzing them as much, and them not getting off the block and making the play."
Last week, Northwestern churned out 508 yards through four quarters.
"I got after our team at halftime to play better and compete harder, because I was not happy with our demeanor in the first half at all. That's on me. I didn't do a good job preparing them," said Dykes. "It involved a lot of four-letter words, spitting, screaming and hollering."
After the break, Cal adjusted, and held Portland State to 119 total yards of offense.
"I think we made huge progress to give up as many yards as we did in the first half, and as few as we did in the second half," Dykes said. "We definitely got better and I thought we made some adjustments that gave us a chance to win the ballgame. You have who you have, that is your football team. You are always going to have some injuries and your team has to step up."
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