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Post Game Thoughts: Northwestern

Some scatter-shot observations after jumping up and down and yelling in section R.

So, how about the freshman?
So, how about the freshman?
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

As you're likely aware, Hydrotech has retired, leaving a 20 gallon sized hole in our hearts. Luckily, Mr. Scott Chong knows his Xs and Os (and Ps and Qs) and will be taking over as your Monday-morning-analyst. Unfortunately for you, he's not available for week one, so you're stuck with a third stringer. Just like a football game, you know you're gonna have a bad time when some schmuck that isn't even on the two deep gets thrust into a major role. Hold on tight.

1. Luck is consistently the most overlooked aspect in (college) football.

For the record, Northwestern slightly outplayed Cal - Northwestern averaged 1.8 more yards/play than Cal, which is a significant gap. But they didn't outperform Cal by 14 points, and the margin was small enough that the game really could have gone either way.

Balls get tipped all the time. If Darius Powe drops that pass, and it goes straight into the ground, the game probably goes into overtime. If that pass drops to the ground, AND the other batted ball falls to the ground, Cal very well might have won. If both balls are intercepted, but not returned far, the game might end differently. But those balls got tipped right into the hands of the same linebacker, and in both cases nobody was between said linebacker and the end zone. That's horribly unlucky, and it's the reason Cal lost by 14 in a game that quite possibly could have been a win.

2. In his first collegiate game, playing against a top 25 team, surrounded with a variety of young teammates with limited experience, Jared Goff set a record for most passing yards in a regulation game.

You already know this. I have no further context. It's going to take many days (weeks? months?) of thought to decide exactly what that means. But it needs to be restated because praise be unto Oski that's unbelievable.

3. Assuming good health, Jared Goff could finish his career owning every major Cal passing record.

OK, here's one thing Saturday's record breaking performance might mean. Considering a lack of traditional success, Cal certainly has had more than their fair share of talented quarterbacks. It's absurdly premature to say that Jared Goff is as good as, for example, Aaron Rodgers, Mike Pawlawski, or Craig Morton.

But he has two advantages that no other Cal quarterback has ever had: 1. He's starting immediately as a true freshman, and 2. He's being coached by Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin, running a high tempo offense that gets off more plays than any Cal QB has had the luxury to run.

He might not ever be as accurate or efficient as other past luminaries (and if he is, watch out) but he'll have, in sheer volume of games played and passes attempted, to stamp his name all over the place. He'll benefit from being surrounded by players who are both talented, and set to stick around for a few more years alongside him.

4. Coach Dykes has retained occasional check-with-mes.

Well trolled, Sonny D. You'll fit in perfectly 'round these parts.

5. On Fake injuries.

Watching as Northwestern defenders left with increasingly fishy injuries, as Cal fans booed with increasing vigor, was one of the more surreal experiences in my time as a Cal fan. Here's my personal manifesto:

A. Booing opposing players as they lie on the field is wrong. I realize that this is pissing into the wind, and that I'm also in the minority. But it's typically impossible, from the stands, to tell the difference between the legit injuries and the fake ones. The only exception I can conceive of is a player faking an injury, leaving, coming back in, then faking an injury again. But that type of specificity is still pretty hard to follow from the stands. I can guarantee you that, before the season ends, Cal fans will boo a player with a real injury, just like Oregon fans have already done. Oh well.

B. People will accuse Cal fans of being hypocrites, and they will have a point, except as a lie of omission All college football fans are hypocrites.

C. The only combat against this tactic is to shame those who choose such a tactic. I initially defended Cal (and Tedford) because at the time I found it inconceivable that Tedford, the staunch moralist, would stoop to such a scheme. Whether the decision to fake injuries came from him or Tosh Lupoi, as the evidence mounted and it became increasingly clear that Cal did fake injuries, it was embarrassing. Shameful. Watching as the youtube clip became a college football viral hit was a low point during the Tedford era.

We need to do the same to any team that chooses to fake injuries. Make videos proving their conduct, catalog the practice, and shame them. It's the best we can do. Also, it'd be best to not boo, but like I said above, I have no illusions about the likelihood of that happening.

6. The defensive performance was both encouraging and discouraging at once.

On one hand, Northwestern could end up being one of the best few offenses Cal faces all year, so allowing 30 (non-interception-return) points despite youth, inexperience with a new scheme might be considered not so bad.

But. Northwestern averaged 7.3 yards/play, after averaging 5.3 last year. There's not an easy way to spin the defensive performance as a positive one, particularly considering that Northwestern was missing two key playmakers in their offense. I actually think Cal's rushing defense performed really well until inexplicably collapsing on the final, clinching Northwestern drive. It's worth noting that Northwestern had four runs of 23 yards or longer . . . but no other runs longer than 8 yards. Cal's front 7 did their job on 36 of 40 rushing attempts. The long runs were frustrating (and it's a concern that once a runner got to the secondary there were acres of space), but as a whole I'm totally satisfied with what the front 7 did against the run.

But the passing defense was allowing Wildcat receivers to get open in space downfield for pretty much the entire game. It's the secondary that Cal fans were most concerned about entering the year, and Saturday's performance did little to alleviate that concern. Braxton Miller, Keith Price, Sean Mannion, Marcus Mariotta and Brett Hundley, amongst others, can all perform up to the level of Trevor Semien yesterday, and that's a sobering thought.

7. As good as the offense was, it could have been even better.

5.5 yards/play is great, considering the opposition and the circumstances. But it could have been even better. Consider: Drive #2 failed mostly because of a dropped pass. Drive #3 failed in part because Cal was backed up close to the endzone. Drive #4 failed because of a dropped pass on 3rd down. Drive #5 failed because of a flurry of false start penalties. Two 2nd half drives failed because of fluky batted passes.

All in all, Cal had 15 meaningful possessions. Six of them successfully ended in points. Three of them ended when Northwestern's defense outplayed Cal's offense. Two ended on weird flukes, and four ended on unforced execution errors. We knew there would be growing pains. None of those execution errors happened in the 2nd half. Be excited.

8. Football is fun again.

Well, Cal football specifically. And that's what really matters. All we can do is cross our fingers, pray for luck, and hope that the clear improvement from last year gets reflected in the win column. That said, I heard way too many bad Tedford/Maynard jokes/comments yesterday. Can we all move on? Pretty please?