In my first game covering the California Golden Bear, I found myself getting a migraine headache. Not because of the heat and not because of those outrageous looking jerseys the Portland State Vikings were sporting, but because that was one sloppy game. Cal was coming off a game they should have won last week against a ranked Northwestern team, while Portland State stepped onto the field a week after putting up 672 yards of total offense.
Honestly, I thought this one would be a blow out. Jared Goff had the second most passing yards by any quarterback in passing history against a Big Ten defense that is supposed to compete. I found myself thinking, “This kid is so good that he’s going to carve the Vikings defense up en-route to an easy victory.”
I was half-right. Goff had a terrific evening at Memorial Stadium, going 31-of-51 with 485 yards and two touchdowns. Goff was every bit the player he was advertised to be. He made every kind of throw today, including a highlight-reel touchdown where Maurice Harris climbed up the ladder and caught the ball with one hand in the back of the end zone to put Cal ahead for the first time all afternoon. This was midway through the 2nd quarter and Cal only took a four-point lead.
That’s not to say that Goff didn’t have his freshman moments. He made an errant pass with about 7 minutes left to play in the game that nearly got caught by defensive back Mishawn Cummings. The near-pick was with no receivers in sight and led to a three-and-out, one which did not produce points, and gave Portland State the ball with just over 6 minutes to play in the game.
The problem wasn’t Goff. The problem wasn’t even the offense, which produced 37 points and 474 yards of offense. The problem was with the defensive unit, who gave up 30 points, 23 in the first half, and really didn’t have a good defensive play until about 5:30 left in the opening quarter. They had already given up 14 points to their FCS opponents, not to mention the 553 yards of offense Portland State was able to gain on the Bears.
It was just a night to forget defensively. The secondary gave up plays of 36, 43, and 81 yards to the receiving corps. The biggest terror to the Cal secondary had to be wide out Kasey Closs, who caught five passes for 160 yards and a score. I guess, to be fair, Berkeley’s defense was without more than a few key players on the defensive side of things. They lost their best player from last week’s game, safety Avery Sebastian, for the season. They also lost defensive end Chris McCain earlier this week.
If Goff had an amazing outing, Portland State quarterback Kieran McDonagh was every bit as good. He went 13 for 28, passing for 308 yards and a touchdown score. He also added 60 yards rushing on 11 carries and a score. He, along with tailback DJ Adams, who ran for 139 and two scores, accounted for 507 yards of offense and four touchdowns. That was nearly 92% of the team’s offensive yards and all four of the team’s touchdowns.
Eventually, the defense was able to make a few key stops, holding the Viking offense to just 7 second-half points. Their biggest stop came with about four-and-a-half minutes left in the game. Portland State opted to punt the ball on 4th and four, rather than attempt to get into Golden Bear territory and making a run at the win.
When the game came down to decision time, the uptempo, Bear-Raid offense looked to its running back tandem of Khaifani Muhammad and Brendon Bigelow to end the game. The pair came through, running during the last drive for a combined 28 yards and 2 of the team’s four first down. Bigelow continued his solid start to the season, gaining 75 yards on 18 carries, while Muhammad added 68 yards on 13 carries and a sparkling rushing touchdown that capped of an impressive coming out game for the freshman.
Cal has the third toughest schedule in the nation. Over the next six games, the Golden Bears have #2 Ohio State, #3 Oregon, #18 UCLA and #20 Washington. Cal – specifically their defense – must play better to have a shot to win any of these games. One bright spot has to be that this offense was able to score with as much consistency as they did last week against Northwestern. They also went 10-for-20 on third-down, something that other teams struggle with. This season, already billed as Sonny Dykes Rebuilding Project, is probably going to be a long one.
Topics: Avery Sebastian, Brandon Bigelow, Cal Golden Bears, Chris McCain, DJ Adams, Jarad Goff, Kasey Closs, Khaifani Muhammad, Kieran McDonagh, Maurice Harris, Mishawn Cummings, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oregon Ducks, Portland State Vikings, UCLA Bruins, Washington Huskies