EVANSTON, Ill. -- California came out on fire, scoring 17 unanswered points before allowing a 54-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Siemian to break the shutout, but on the very next drive the Bears – who went 1-11 last year with the worst defense in the land – answered right back, with a 76-yard scoring strike from sophomore Jared Goff to Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis. That kind of momentum was unseen, unheard of and completely unimaginable last season, and Cal turned it into a 31-24 win – on the road – over a Big Ten opponent Northwestern.
That win, though, was not without some nailbiting.
“Like everyone else in the stadium who was a Cal fan,” said head coach Sonny Dykes, “I was starting to get a bit uncomfortable,” when the Wildcats turned a 24-7 halftime deficit into a 10-point game in the third quarter.
Jalen Jefferson, though, helped Dykes relax just a bit, with an open-field tackle of Justin Jackson -- seemingly the only Wildcat the Bears couldn’t haul down on Saturday – to hold him from a first down, and then delivering a second-and-six sack of Siemian and, finally, the game-sealing interception at the 15-yard line.
“I just told him I loved him a minute ago,” said Goff. “He got the game ball – well-deserved.”
So, starting with Jefferson, here is the first Fifth Quarter of the season.
1. BT called it, Barton Bet on It, Agu Blessed It, and Jefferson Sealed it: Before the interception, Jefferson made a point of tapping the memorial patch for fallen teammate Ted Agu.
“Right before that interception, I patted my chest, and that’s where the Ted patch is, and I think he won it for us,” said Jefferson, clearly a bit emotional.
It turns out that BearTerritory and linebacker Michael Barton have something in common: I said in my Game Day Central piece of the possibility of Jefferson getting his second career pick: “Jefferson led all linebackers with 43 total tackles, but has only recorded one in-game interception. Could he get his second on Saturday? My bet is, yes.”
It turns out, Barton actually did bet, the opposite way, and he was his own undoing – tipping the ball to Jefferson.
“I gave him a lot of love after the game. We actually made a bet of, whoever got the first pick would get each other’s per diem, so I get his per diem now,” Jefferson said. “He was really happy. He said it wasn’t fair that I get his money, but I told him, ‘Hey, I got the interception, so hand it over.’”
Jefferson finished the game with a game- and career-high 16 tackles, including 11 solo stops, 1.5 tackles for loss and one more pass breakup.
"A big sack and a big interception by Jefferson he had that sack and was making plays at the right time. That's the key, not to panic," said defensive coordinator Art Kaufman.
Jefferson recorded his pass breakup in the end zone on second-and-one at the Bears’ 19. On that same drive, Jefferson teamed up with defensive end Todd Barr to drop Treyvon Green for a loss, forcing a 24-yard field goal.
“The first play in the end zone, I didn’t see anything,” Jefferson said. “I saw the receiver’s eyes light up, so at that point in time, I put my hands up and made a good play on the ball.”
2. Luke Rubenzer = Tiny Tim Tebow … I can’t take credit for that nickname. That goes to The Daily Californian’s Michael Rosen, but boy, was it true. Rubenzer -- who took 16 snaps -- had 23 of Cal’s first 43 rushing yards – all on the first drive – and finished with 48 yards on 11 carries on the ground, but he wasn’t just a run-only threat, going 2-for-5 for 19 yards through the air, including a key completion to Bryce Treggs for nine yards and a first down.
"The two-quarterback thing was something that we had no idea, since that was the first time they’ve done that," said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "It was a great plan for them. I think when we finally got the adjustment that we felt solid about, it wasn’t until the last drive. Nice plan by them, good job. Good job by their bloggers and beat reporters not reporting that throughout camp, because they did a great job with the element of surprise."
On Cal’s second drive, Rubenzer rushed for nine yards and then completed a drag route to Treggs for another nine and a first down. On the next play, he gained four with his legs, but had a meeting of the minds with Traveon Henry for his ‘Welcome to College Football’ moment, before Goff found a leaping Kenny Lawler in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, to make the score 14-0.
“It felt good. I haven’t been live too much for fall, but it has been a couple practices,” Rubenzer said. “That’s why we play football: To get hit. It felt real good to really get in the mix, right away.”
Rubenzer’s only real mistake of the afternoon came when he locked in on the right side while scrambling, and while trying to throw a ball away, instead tallied his first collegiate interception, thanks to Ibraheim Campbell, who just barely came down in-bounds. That pick lead to a seven-play touchdown drive by the Wildcats, finishing with the 54-yarder from Siemian to Cameron Dickerson in busted coverage.
“I was just trying to throw it out of bounds, just a terrible out-of-bounds pass,” Rubenzer said. “I had a whole stadium to throw to, and I threw it to the one guy. You just learn from it and keep moving forward.”
As we saw during the final week of fall camp (prompting this feature), Rubenzer has been prepping for this game for quite some time, and he knew that he’d be playing on Saturday, burning his redshirt.
“They gave me an idea, that they were kind of going to put me in, depending on how well the game goes, so I didn’t know exactly when it was going to be, but I knew it was probably going to come, eventually,” said Rubenzer, who came in on the fourth play from scrimmage. “I didn’t know exactly when it was going to be.
“It felt good. It’s different going against your own guys, every single day. They’re seeing the exact same plays, every single day, so when you do run it against an opponent, it actually is more open. It feels a lot better. The game kind of slowed down for me, after the first couple plays. Like I said, it felt good going against somebody else, for once.”
Rubenzer was one of six freshmen to have their redshirts burned, including defensive end Noah Westerfield, linebacker Devante Downs, receiver Matthew Rockett and running backs Tre Watson and Vic Enwere.
Rubenzer’s 48 total rushing yards were the most by a Bears quarterback since Zach Maynard rushed for 78 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries at Washington State on Oct. 13, 2012.
His biggest play came on the final drive of the game, and while it didn’t lead directly to a score, it kept the ball in Cal’s hands with less than a minute remaining. On second-and-seven at the Bears’ 28, Rubenzer rushed for eight yards and a first down, allowing Cal to run out the clock.
“I was kind of going a little crazy there, for a minute, but it was just a big play,” Rubenzer said. “I was just trying to help us get that first down, and try to seal the game for us. I was real excited about that last one.”
3. Nickel-odeon: Cal played nickel on 14 of 33 plays in the first half, and 31 of 48 in the second, using a variety of linebacker groupings, most frequently Jefferson and Barton, but occasionally pairing Jefferson with Hardy Nickerson, who played much of the second quarter at MIKE linebacker.
Several times, the Bears would go into a 3-3-5 look, blitzing out of that package once, but also twice getting burned – once on a completion over the middle for 12 yards and a first down on second-and-10 at Cal’s 40-yard line, and the other a completion on third-and-four early in the fourth quarter for 16 yards and a first down from the Northwestern 36. At that point, the defense was having trouble getting pressure on Siemian, and was trying to find some kind of spark after giving up two unanswered touchdowns.
"Some of that, we go with a 3-down look and try to mix it up and give different looks,” Kaufman said. "I know one of those, the quarterback scrambled up the field in the 1st half. The second one, we had a crossing route over the middle and they got us in a formation I hadn't worked enough. We've got to be able to work through that. Those are some of the issues that you see in the first game and the first time those guys have been in the heat of the battle (this season).
Over the Wildcats’ first eight possessions, the Bears had allowed just seven points, but allowed back-to-back scores thanks to a short rushing touchdown from Justin Jackson and a double-pass play that saw Siemian take in a Jayme Taylor toss in the third quarter.
"It's like I told those guys, you go back on the touchdown and I thought we made a mistake and should've made a different call at that time. We talked about that, trying to figure out what we were doing,” Kaufman said. "We told the guys to keep playing like the score's 0-0. We kind of established where we're and just keep going."
4. ”I’d love to run the ball for a million yards.” – Jared Goff, on Tuesday. After stopping the Wildcats on three-and-out on the first drive of the second half, Cal kept the game on the ground, with nine of the Bears 11 plays during their first touchdown drive after the break coming on rushes – including a one-yard touchdown scamper by Khalfani Muhammad, which followed a four-yard run that saw him wait for blocks to develop, and break three tackles.
“I thought they did great tonight,” said Goff. “I thought they ran fast and hit the gaps when they needed to. I’m excited to see what they’re going to do. They looked good, the line looked great. It was just a full team effort today.”
Aside from that drive, though, the run game was a mixed bag. Other than Rubenzer, no other player ran for more than 23 yards. Muhammad had four carries for 23, Watson had six for 22, Enwere had four for 14 and Daniel Lasco had eight for 22, but that doesn’t count a ball that popped out of his hands on first-and-10 in the third quarter, a ball that wound up settling into the hands of – say it all together now -- Collin Ellis, for his third pick in two straight games against the Bears.
“Well, you know at that point in the game, that was about the worst thing that could possibly happen,” said Dykes. “The tipped ball to Lasco and they hit us for a touchdown the next play. Nice call (the double-pass). I was afraid they might try to take a shot, you know, just to kind of build on that momentum they had taken from us. We had a 17-point lead at that point and all the sudden it went to 10.”
The real concerning stat, as far as the run game is concerned?
After one quarter, Cal was 6-for-7 on third downs. After that? 2-for-10. Yipes. The offensive line was much stronger, and the same five linemen played the entire game. So, maybe the run game, as a whole, gets a C. Chris Borrayo was particularly impressive blocking into the second level, and Chris Adcock was impossible to move in the middle, though he did uncork a bad snap that Goff tried to make into something, leading a scrambling Treggs to try and recover an errant throw that got his calf cleated.
5. Don’t panic. Northwestern had three crucial drops in the third and fourth quarters, balls that, had they been completed, could have changed the complexion of the game. They weren’t contested or broken up; they were just dropped.
"Those are things that happen during the game," said Kaufman. "Sometimes guys make plays both ways, like the interception they got was a good play. And the completions they could've had that they didn't get -those are things we have to clean up this week. That will be the big thing.
"I told the guys all week that bad things are going to happen during the course of the game. Don't panic. Just play the next play. No matter what happens, just play one play at a time. I think that's something the guys did a good job with.”
After going up 17-0, with TD passes to Treggs and Lawler, and James Langford’s first career field goal, the Bears were stung on a 54-yard line-drive pass from Siemian to Dickerson up the seam for a touchdown. Still, Cal didn’t panic.
The very next play? Goff pump faked to the flat, and then hit Davis up top on a 76-yard score down the middle, the 10th pass he’s thrown a pass of 50 or more yards.
"I saw the safety come down and I ran the cornerback and it was just wide open," said Davis. "Jared threw it up, it was a perfect pass and we scored a touchdown. It was in the air for what seemed like forever. I just waited for it and looked it all the way in like we practiced and ran it in the end zone."
FIFTH QUARTER: You Can Bet on It
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