I'll start by saying that I have not had a chance to review the film, so I am going off of what I remember seeing from the North Endzone on Saturday.
Cal was a few plays shy of winning the game. However, when those few plays involve a player ejection and two pick sixes, that "few" suddenly doesn't seem so small. Granted, both pick sixes were from tipped balls, but I'll get into that later.
From what I saw, it's pretty clear that Cal is in rebuild mode this season. A new head coach, a new offensive and defensive scheme, and a true freshman starting at quarterback, all point to one thing: this season is going to lead to a lot of moments where we are painfully reminded how new everything is. But don't get me wrong--we're definitely going to win games this year, but for those of us wearing Rose-colored glasses (I know, I'll show myself out...), I would tap the brakes for this season.
That said, let's see if we can sort through the aftermath.
I'll say it right now: don't expect Jared Goff to be Andrew Luck. At least not yet. There are a lot of things he did right on Saturday that should get you excited, but there were also a lot of things he did that showed his youth. There's a saying that healthy programs do not start true freshmen at quarterback, and Cal is no exception.
As an exercise, let's briefly evaluate Jared Goff without the knowledge that he's a true freshman. A stat line of 39-64-455-2-3 is not one that's likely to win a football game. Yes, 455 yards is very impressive, but when you need 64 attempts to get it and throw 3 interceptions along the way, it becomes less so.
As for the interceptions themselves, I will acknowledge the first pick six to be of the "shit happens" variety; their lineman made a play and their linebacker was in the right place at the right time. His second, on the other hand, was equal parts him and Darius Powe. The pass was thrown behind the receiver, which is a recipe for disaster. However, the ball was still quite catchable, and Powe should have reeled it in. Goff's third and final interception was purely on him. The defense disguised their coverage well and he made a poor read. Combine that with putting a lot of air on the ball, and you saw for yourselves what the results are.
But! I will now follow my own earlier advice. Jared Goff is a true freshman, and putting 64 pass attempts on film in his first game is a great way to get better fast. His deep balls across the middle and fade to Chris Harper were all right on the money, and I don't need to tell you that deep ball accuracy is a must-have for quarterbacks. I also liked what I saw (mostly) from Goff's short and intermediate game.
Oh, right--there are 10 more players who were on the offense on Saturday. What can I say about them? As the game went on, the O-Line got progressively less and less push on Inside Zone runs, which is the exact opposite of what needs to happen. Once their defense is worn down from our nuclear tempo attack, we should be able to literally shove them aside and run it right down their throats (see Oregon for an example).
I will need to review the film to say anything more concrete, but the play (I will call it an Outside Zone run, though, again, I'll need to rewatch the game to be sure) where the O-Line all shift to one direction while the QB fakes a screen to the other side did not seem particularly successful on Saturday.
I don't remember seeing a Tight End catch the ball or blowing anyone up in the run game.
If it was hard to talk about the offense without watching film, it will be nearly impossible to do so for the defense. I thought that the defense was in general good enough throughout: holding Northwestern to 5.2 yards/rush attempt (which includes that ridiculous 55-yard run in the 4th quarter after Goff's third interception) is not world-class, but very respectable. Take away that one run, and we're talking sub-4 yards/rush, which is quite good.
I hardly remember Northwestern throwing the ball deep on Saturday. And yet, the box score will reflect 299 yards of passing from Northwestern in only 30 attempts, for a jaw-dropping 10 yards per attempt. That is not winning football. Giving up a first down any time the opponent decides to throw is, in a nutshell, bad. Our secondary needs to really tighten up and reduce big passing plays.
Aside from the two inexplicable out-of-bounds kickoffs, Vincenzo D'Amato (what a name) was spot on, hitting all his field goal and PAT attempts, not to mention consistently pinning the opponent deep in the punt game. Being able to have a 100% placekicking stat is not something to be taken for granted.
Kickoff and punt coverage was also very good, as Northwestern was unable to capitalize and rarely had superb field position as a result.
Cal has a ways to go before we can talk about winning the Pac-12 North, but man are these some exciting times. An offense that can actually move so fast that the opponent's defense has to call injury timeouts on three consecutive plays? A fake field goal attempt that actually worked? Cal is threatening to be relevant again, and I like it.