Recap: Cal 31 Northwestern 24

WNUR’s Nick Scoliard (@NickScols) recaps Northwestern’s loss to Cal, and what positives can be taken from the game.

It’s easy to look at a game like this, and think the season will be terrible. Heck, people were clamoring that the season was lost 14 minutes into the game, or calling the first half the worst half in the Fitz era (spoiler alert: it wasn’t even close to the worst). While expectations were perhaps a little too high coming off a 5-7 season, this game certainly what was expected of this supposed bounce-back season. A 31-7 loss would have bled the fan base dry, and really started the season on an ugly note, but the comeback attempt that came just short gave Northwestern a little more confidence, while also putting a spotlight on the parts that need work.

First, let’s mention the good. Freshman Justin Jackson and Solomon Vault shone during the games, and it seemed like the coaching staff had immense faith in both of them, keeping them on for important drives. They combined for 65 yards rushing on 13 carries, averaging five yards a carry, with Jackson adding a TD to start the comeback attempt at the end of the third quarter. Treyvon Green seemed to slump, averaging only 2.8 yards a carry. While Green was thought to be the presumptive number one, Jackson and Vault could both see more playing time as the season progresses.

Tony Jones also took command of the receiver corps nicely, gaining 64 yards on seven receptions. Cameron Dickerson, Miles Shuler, and Kyle Prater each had two receptions, and Dickerson was able to convert a 54 yard TD in the second quarter to get the ‘Cats on the board. Unfortunately, it looked like there was miscommunication between the receivers and Siemian, with a number of drops and badly thrown balls that might have been due to Siemian expecting different routes than the receivers were running.

Siemian finished the day 22 for 43 with 229 yards, a TD and two INTs. I saved Siemian for last of the offense because his results are a somewhat mixed bag.  On one hand, Mick McCall was terrible at play calling, and multiple times left people, myself included, yelling at the TV when, for example, he would call a rollout to a Siemian’s non-throwing shoulder on 4th down when Siemian can’t run and throw at the same time. Or, running Treyvon Green up the middle on a key third down when the defense was showing eight in the box. Mick McCall has probably been on the sideline too long, and these bad decisions are becoming more and more apparent when he can’t hide under the crutch of the Colter’s legs and the option. Running a pro-style offense with Siemian will need to be precise, something McCall doesn’t seem to be able to accomplish. Another fault going against Siemian was his O-line. It seemed that he barely had time to go to his second read, but he used his feet rather well. It must be mentioned that his double pass trick play was a work of art, and seeing him run 17 yards in slow motion felt like a great ending to a sports movie, had it not been in real time. However, Siemian was not without faults. He seemed to linger too long on his first reads, and force balls when the receiver was outnumbered and there were open receivers elsewhere. He also relied on his legs a little too much, maybe trying to prove he could pretend to be a poor man’s Colter, but it got him into some trouble. It was a rough start for Siemian first time heading the offense, and hopefully he can lead the team to better games as the season progresses.

Finally, the defense has to get mentioned. Nowhere were holes more apparent than in the middle of the D Line where McEvily would have been playing had he not gotten injured for the season. The Golden Bears rushed well up the middle, and Luke Rubenzer, even though he basically only ran the ball when in the game, torched the defense and made them look silly every time he came in. That may be a victory for Sonny Dykes, as Rubenzer was a well-kept secret and wasn’t even mentioned prior to the game, but just thrown out onto the field until he made a freshman mistake, throwing the ball away instead of taking the sack. Collin Ellis recorded another interception, making it three while playing Cal, and one playing anyone else. The secondary looked dreadful, especially in the beginning of the game, and got bailed out by drops on a lot of plays. The one thing they did excel at was stopping screen passes, something Cal was known for, and something Fitz obviously game planned for. It’s just unfortunate that Cal couldn’t only throw screen passes, but the defense will have step up to keep the team in the game instead of getting the offense into holes early.

Overall, it was a disappointing game, but it could have been worse. The comeback attempt helped mitigate the damage, but NU was outplayed, and more importantly, outcoached by a team that was 1-11 last year. Cal may be on to better things in the PAC-12, as Jared Goff did have a very impressive game, but it doesn’t take the L out of Northwestern’s record.

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