Football: Northwestern’s defense bends but doesn’t break against Cal’s new-look offense


Source: Stephen J. Carrera

Linebacker Collin Ellis returns one of his two interceptions against Cal. Ellis' two touchdowns helped Northwestern's defense fend off the Golden Bears on Saturday.

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

BERKELEY, Calif. — Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald’s immediate response Saturday night to the California’s Bear Raid offense was simple.

“I’m glad we only got to play it once,” Fitzgerald said.

The much-hyped offensive attack was difficult for the Wildcats to prepare for their first meeting with the Bears. Fitzgerald said he had to look at old tape of Cal coach Sonny Dykes’ former team, Louisiana Tech, to get a feel for the offense, but that could only help so much.

“They (Cal) had every advantage,” Fitzgerald said. “They had every tape on us. We had to figure out how they were going to deploy their personnel.”

Quarterback Jared Goff became the first true freshman signal caller to start a season opener for Cal in the school’s history. The highly rated recruit made some big time throws against an NU defense that was on the field for 99 plays and gave up 548 total yards.

The Cats also allowed Bears’ receivers junior Chris Harper and sophomore Bryce Treggs, to rack up 11 catches for 151 yards with two touchdowns and 13 catches for 145 yards.

“We let ourselves get pushed by the quarterback a little too much today,” Fitzgerald said. “Once we were able to get more pressure in his face, we were able to impact his throws.”

Junior linebacker Collin Ellis, who had two interceptions on the night, said even though the defense was out there for a lot of snaps, it was nothing new for that unit.

“They were giving us some quick looks,” Ellis said. “So obviously we were running around like ‘What’s going on?’ but that’s the way we practice.”

Bears fans grew restless in the second half when the injuries racked up for the Cats’ defense. At one point, Cal fans began booing injured NU players when they went down on the field. To some people, it appeared the Cats were faking the injuries to slow down the quick-paced Cal offense, a form of gamesmanship the Bears themselves have been accused of in the past.

Dykes said after the game he was “disappointed” that it seemed like the Cats had an injury every time the Bears got a first down. Ellis said he didn’t think any of his teammates were faking injury to slow Cal down.

Fitzgerald had strong words for whoever would challenge NU’s reputation.

“If anybody were to question the integrity of myself, our program or our players, I’d question theirs,” Fitzgerald said. “When our guys get dinged up, they are instructed to go down.”

Assistant Gameday editor John Paschall can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at