I got to go to Northwestern game for the first time since the Outback Bowl in 2010, and this is what I saw.
- We saw life without Kain Colter and Venric Mark, and it was...OK, I guess. Those guys are obviously very talented players, and Northwestern is better with them on the field; the Trevor Siemian-Treyvon Green backfield, though, was able to move the ball reasonably well.
- Speaking of Green, I was happy to see him get a lot of PT; I thought his listing on the two-deep might be mostly a nod to a guy who was sidelined last year, but he broke off several nice runs (including a 55-yarder on the drive that iced the game) and generally seemed to be a productive (if not very explosive) option at running back.
- The offensive line needs to pick things up, though. They really struggled to create any push in the running game, though the pass protection seemed OK.
- Collin Ellis was great. Rodger picked him as a key player before the game, and Ellis responded by providing the entire margin of victory on interception returns. The Cats can't count on 14 points from the defense every week, though (obvious thing is obvious).
- Jared Goff is a terrifying thing to behold. His 70 plays (passes and rushes combined) produced 6.1 yards per play. The three interceptions hurt Cal a lot, but being able to (mostly successfully) allow a true freshman quarterback to carry the team in his first game is a good sign for his future. He missed a few downfield throws and seemed to get the yips a few times on quick screens, but look for Goff to light up the scoreboard in Evanston next year.
- Goff had to carry the team because, after their first drive, Cal struggled to open holes for the running game. I give the defensive line an incomplete for this game; they were pretty good against the run and very active about getting hands in passing lanes, so I will hold off on judging the lack of pressure until NU plays a more conventional offense.
- Of course, a game without a ton of pressure still produced 4 Northwestern sacks. All 4 defensive ends in the rotation (Tyler Scott, Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson, and Ifeadi Odenigbo) got in on the action. Still, NU needs to be a bit more consistent with the pass rush and get more from the defensive tackles to really do well in pass defense.
- Ibraheim Campbell's interception was exactly the kind of play you want from a good safety. Quarterbacks will be much less enthusiastic to test the deep middle of the field after watching that play. Cornerback remains an issue, as even Nick VanHoose was badly burned on a double move that Cal couldn't quite complete, but good safety play should make their jobs a bit easier.
- Cal fans booing injured players is both incredibly ironic and tied for the second most classless display I have seen in person at a football game (#1 is Auburn fans booing an obvious roughing the kicker that knocked Stefan Demos out of the game; the other number two is Oregon fans at the 2010 game doing...exactly what Cal fans did last night). There isn't any reason to think that Northwestern was intentionally removing star linebackers from the game in important situations. I am even more disappointed, though, that I heard a few boos when a Cal player was injured soon after their fans started booing NU players. If you can perfectly diagnose players from a few seconds observation in the stands, feel free to boo fakers; otherwise, remember that you will frequently be heaping abuse on already-injured players.
The Northwestern team I saw was probably a bowl team, but they struggled to put away an underwhelming opponent. At the very least, NU needs to get the offensive line and secondary tuned up to host Syracuse next week or risk entering conference play with a loss.