The Super Bowl is right around the corner, so along with the rest of the media world, we’re presenting some themed content in the form of a Flashback Friday. This edition harkens all the way back to 2013 and 2014, when NU opened its seasons against Cal. Full disclosure, this blog is coming through my lens as an obnoxious Cal fan. I’d put a limb or two through a wood chipper for Jared Goff, and that’s how I’ll frame what follows. Anyways, let’s remember that time when Jared Goff, who will start the Super Bowl for the Rams on Sunday, absolutely torched Northwestern, twice.
In 2013, the Wildcats were coming off their first bowl win since 1949, a 34-20 win over Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl. Cal was coming off a miserable 3-9 season where its players gave up on Jeff Tedford late in the season, preceding Tedford’s firing after 11 years with the program.
Still, excitement was palpable around the program because of new coach Sonny Dykes and his Bear Raid offense, and true freshman Jared Goff, the winner of an off-season quarterback battle.
One Cal fan was particularly excited.
Anyways, the game got underway and Goff led the Bears down the field on his first collegiate possession. Cal settled for a field goal attempt, until they didn’t.
I’m not kidding when I say I ran around the concourse of the stadium screaming something about how big Sonny Dykes’ cojones were.
Let’s not forget that the 2013 Cal defense was one of the worst Power Five defenses in modern history, allowing nearly 46 points per game. Trevor Siemian and Treyvon Green did pretty much whatever they wanted for most of the first half, and Northwestern took a 17-10 lead into the break only because Cal stonewalled NU in the red zone a couple times.
The second half was when things got exciting for me, the Cal fan. Northwestern kicked a field goal on its first drive to extend its lead to 10. That’s when Jared Goff announced his presence.
On second and 10 from the Cal 48, the poster-child for scrawny Bay Area teens wound up and delivered an absolute dime to Chris Harper to pull the Bears within a score.
Then, after Stephen Buckley fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the pride of Novato delivered once again. Cal dialed up a Sonny Dykes classic, the end zone fade, and Goff threw a dime to Chris Harper, who embarrassed Sky Team™ member Nick VanHoose to give Cal the lead.
There were some Sad Cats.
Those Cats wouldn’t be aggrieved for long, however, as Goff’s debut was about to be ruined by the sworn enemy of any 2013 Cal football fan, Collin Ellis.
Honestly, that was a really nice play by Dean Lowry. Anyways, the Cats were pretty psyched about that play.
Young Goff did not quit, and led Cal on another scoring drive, as Vincenzo D’Amato, who has a Very Good™ kicker name, knocked home a 38-yarder to tie the game.
But bad things happen to good people, and for reasons unknown to a certain 15-year-old from Palo Alto, Collin Ellis wound up with another intercepted pass in his arms and a clear path to the end zone.
Life had never seemed more unfair. A seven-point deficit was completely insurmountable for this Cal team, and when Ibraheim Campbell picked off Goff one last time with under four minutes to go, it was all over.
Still, a promising start to Goff’s career — he broke two school records in his debut with 450 yards and 64 (!) passing attempts all while becoming the first true freshman in school history to start a season opener. Cal bloggers and fans were VERY excited. I was excited enough to tweet Goff a birthday message, because that’s how I thought you were supposed to use Twitter, I guess.
Cal won its next game against Portland State, then proceeded to lose its next ten. Only one loss was closer than three possessions.
Northwestern, of course, would start the season 4-0 before a heartbreaking Game Day loss to Ohio State that preceded a complete nosedive.
One year later, as Goff and Co. prepared for their return trip to Evanston, I was getting ready too. Perhaps foreshadowing my future at Inside NU, I started my own Cal-centric blog that absolutely nobody read. I went to an open practice and recorded my observations, and I wrote fairly incomplete positional previews.
For all three of my Cal followers..the final segment in my Cal defensive preview- the defensive backs http://t.co/yyNeLOlHkn— Davis Rich (@DavisRich1) August 16, 2014
It’s fair to say that Northwestern didn’t know what hit them when Cal came to Ryan Field on Aug. 30. The Bears punched the Wildcats in the mouth with two early touchdowns, then kicked NU when it was down, jumping out to a 31-7 lead just after halftime.
The Wildcats sleepwalking through an early-season 11 a.m. home game? Color me surprised.
Northwestern fought back furiously, and somehow Collin Ellis intercepted Goff again, but Cal decided to tackle Ellis before he scored this time, and the Bears held on for a 31-24 win.
Everyone was very, very excited, and for good reason. 2014 was the year when Goff legitimized himself as an Actually Good Pac-12 quarterback, and his performance against Northwestern (21-of-34 for 281 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception) started his journey down that path. And of course, this was Goff’s first win over a Power Five team and his first road win to boot.
In more spicy developments, Pat Fitzgerald delivered some salacious quotes post-game. This probably deserves a post of its own, honestly. Cal used a second quarterback, Luke Rubenzer, as a dual-threat to great effect against NU. Fitz and Co. were pretty unprepared, and gave quotes to that effect after the game:
“The two quarterback thing was something we had no idea because obviously that’s the first time they’ve ever done that. So credit Cal. Great plan for them. I think that when we finally got the adjustment that we felt solid about we were great until the last drive. Nice plan by them, good job. Unbelievable job by their bloggers and beat writers — lesson learned — not reporting that throughout all of camp because they did a great job with the element of surprise.”
As for the rest of the season, Cal ended up 5-7, but not after putting up video game-like stats on offense and playing absolutely no defense yet again. It was awesome. Goff broke two school records with 3,973 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. He’d break those records again during his junior season, when he threw for 4,719 yards and 43 touchdowns, before being drafted with the No. 1 overall pick.
Northwestern struggled through a slow September and missed bowl eligibility, but picked up a couple of important wins over ranked Wisconsin and Notre Dame teams.
Please root for the Rams on Sunday.