BERKELEY — Collin Ellis returned two interceptions after deflected passes for touchdowns to help No. 22 Northwestern spoil Sonny Dykes' debut as California coach with a 44-30 victory on Saturday night.
Ellis had a 56-yard return in the third quarter and then put the Wildcats (0-1) in control when he took another one back 40 yards midway through the fourth to take a 10-point lead.
Those were rare blemishes on an otherwise strong debut by Jared Goff, who became the first true freshman ever to start the season opener for the Golden Bears (0-1). Goff went 38 for 63 for 445 yards and two touchdowns and Cal also scored on a fake field goal on the opening drive in an entertaining start to Dykes' tenure.
Despite the win, it was a taxing opener for the Wildcats, who were ranked in the preseason poll for the first time since 2001. They lost starting quarterback Kain Colter to an upper-body injury after their second play from scrimmage and then saw starting cornerback Daniel Jones go down with an apparent leg injury late in the first half.
A number of other players went down with more minor injuries to the dismay of the Cal fans who felt the Wildcats were trying to slow down Dykes' no-huddle offense.
Trevor Siemian, who normally splits time with Colter, went 18 for 29 for 276 yards and a touchdown in a more extensive role. Treyvon Green ran for 129 yards and two TDs.
The game turned early in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats were backed up on their 10 facing third-and-3 with the game tied. Siemian connected on a 10-yard pass to Christian Jones just before being hit by a rushing McCain. Officials ruled the helmet-to-helmet contact, which led to a 15-yard penalty and an ejection under a new rule.
Siemian then hit Dan Vitale on a 53-yard pass on the next play to help set up Jeff Budzien's third field goal of the game to give the Wildcats the lead.
On the next drive, Goff's short pass went off Darius Powe's hands and right to Ellis who raced in to make it 37-27.