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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern 44, Cal 30

What happened:

The game began with Cal driving down the field at a blistering pace to open the Sonny Dykes era. Their drive eventually stalled close to Northwestern’s endzone. Cal then lined up for what was thought to be a routine field goal. But the Golden Bears proceeded to score on a fake.

On the other side of the ball, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter started the game, but left after a few plays with an undisclosed upper body injury. Trevor Siemian stepped in for Colter leading the Wildcats to two first-half touchdowns including a 19-yard pass on a go route to wide receiver Tony Jones to put the Wildcats up 14-7.

The 2012 All-American return specialist Venric Mark did not return any kicks or punts, in an effort to limit the toll hits take on his body this early in the season. He also found himself on the sideline for most of the first half riding a stationary bike. According to InsideNU’s Chris Johnson, Mark had been riding a bike all of Wednesday’s practice but was not listed on any of Northwestern’s official injury reports. Mark was more effective in the second half including a 23-yard run early in the 3rd quarter, setting up a Jeff Budzien field goal.

Cal'a true freshman quarterback Jared Goff was a little shaky to start the game, but settled down early in the second half as he beat cornerback Dwight White on a 52-yard touchdown pass to Chris Harper. White replaced Daniel Jones, who was hurt on a play late in the first half and did not return.

Minutes later, after a Northwestern fumble, Goff fired a seven-yard touchdown pass as Cal took a 24-20 lead.

After a three-and-out by the Northwestern offense, Cal took over and began to drive. With just over half of the third quarter gone, Northwestern defensive lineman Dean Lowry leaped up to tip a Goff pass. Linebacker Collin Ellis picked the tipped pass out of the air and ran it back for a 56-yard touchdown, giving Northwestern a three-point lead.

Cal then drove back down the field, finishing their drive with a field goal to tie the game at 27 early in the fourth quarter.

With just over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and Northwestern backed up inside it’s own 15-yard line, Siemian dropped back on third down and fired a pass to Christian Jones for a first down. On the play, Cal’s Chris McCain drilled Siemian. McCain was ejected from the game for roughing the passer while targeting the head. On the very next play, Siemian found superback Dan Vitale for a 53-yard completion. Northwestern took a 30-27 lead on a Budzien 32-yard field goal.

On the third play of Cal’s following drive, Ellis picked off Goff again and returned it 40 yards for his second pick six of the game as Northwestern went up 37-27 with just over half of the fourth quarter remaining.

Goff then lead Cal down the field again for a drive ending in a field goal to pull within seven points.

With just under four minutes remaining, Siemian was picked off by Cal’s Alex Logan. Then on the very next play, Goff looked deep down the field and was intercepted by safety Ibraheim Campbell.

With less than two minutes to go, running back Treyvon Green powered his way into the endzone to ice the game as the Wildcats led 44-30.

What went well:

Linebacker Collin Ellis, who appeared to win the starting SAM linebacker spot after competing with Drew Smith during training camp, had, not one, but two game-changing interception returns for touchdowns. He also could have had a third interception of Goff in the fourth quarter when a pass slipped through his hands.

Went went wrong:

Senior running back Venric Mark was never able to get into a rhythm for the Wildcats. Mark began the game riding the stationary bike and never saw consistent reps at all during the game. When Colter went out with an injury, Mark’s role in the read-option game was diminished. While quarterback Trevor Siemian does many things well, he is not as athletic as Colter. When Colter and Mark run the option, Mark is only given the ball when he will be better off as the ball carrier. Without the threat of the option, Mark struggled to bounce runs outside the hash marks, where he is most effective. He finished the game with just 29 yards on 11 carries.