BERKELEY -- The Sonny Dykes coaching era at Cal began with enough offensive fireworks to energize a Memorial Stadium crowd of 58,816 fans on Saturday night.

Not a bad start, either, for freshman quarterback Jared Goff.

No. 22 Northwestern escaped with a 44-30 victory but not before the Golden Bears gave the visitors from the Big Ten Conference a serious scare.

"We played pretty well the whole game," Goff said. "It was disappointing to come up a little short."

"We made more mistakes down the stretch than those guys did," Dykes said.

The Golden Bears got two touchdown passes from Goff to Chris Harper in a span of 47 seconds in the third quarter and battled the Wildcats to a 27-all tie after the first play of the fourth quarter.

Goff, who was attending Marin Catholic High-Kentfield at this time last year, was 38 for 63 for 445 yards -- second-most by any Cal quarterback and the most by a freshman. He threw two TDs and was intercepted three times, twice on balls that were tipped.

"I thought it was a heck of a performance by a young kid," Dykes said of Goff. "He'll continue to get better and better and take better care of the football."

Northwestern, with 15 starters back from a 10-3 team, took a 30-27 lead when Jeff Budzien converted a 32-yard field goal with 8:49 left in the game.

Junior linebacker Collin Ellis clinched the outcome when he returned a tipped interception 40 yards for a touchdown -- his second pick-six of the game. The ball flicked off the hands of receiver Darius Powe before Ellis grabbed it and bumped the score to 37-27.

Cal, coming off a 3-9 campaign that led to longtime coach Jeff Tedford's firing, pulled within seven points after a 37-yard field goal by Vincenzo D'Amato with 4:45 left. But Goff's deep pass to Harper was picked off by Northwestern's Ibraheim Campbell with 3:42 left.

That set up the game's final score, a 6-yard push by tailback Treyvon Green with 1:51 left.

Dykes kept offensive coordinator Tony Franklin on the sideline to help calm his young quarterback, and the new Bear Raid spread offense ran 99 plays, netting 548 total yards.

The Bears had three turnovers, 10 penalties for 79 yards, didn't run the ball effectively after the game's opening series and played well only sporadically on defense. But Dykes saw plenty of reasons to be encouraged.

"We'll learn a lot from this game," Dykes said. "I was really, really proud of how our players played. I thought we played hard and showed we have what it takes to be a good football team."

Cal trailed 20-10 when Goff delivered his first collegiate touchdown, a perfectly thrown 52-yard strike down the middle of the field to Harper with 10:42 left in the third quarter.

The Bears got the ball right back when Joel Willis hit Stephen Buckley, who fumbled on the kickoff return. Hardy Nickerson recovered for the Bears at the 27.

The opportunity nearly went up in smoke when Brendan Bigelow pitched wildly to Bryce Treggs on a reverse, but Treggs knocked the ball out of bounds and the Bears settled for a 16-yard loss.

Goff then fired a 36-yard completion to Treggs to the 7 before using a play fake to set up a lob to the right corner of the end zone, where Harper outleaped Nick VanHoose for the TD.

In a span of 47 seconds, the Goff-to-Harper connection worked twice for TDs, and Cal led 24-20.

Nothwestern regained the lead when Dean Lowry tipped Goff's pass and Ellis intercepted and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown and a 27-24 lead with 4:40 left in the third quarter.

D'Amato tied the score at 27-all with a 38-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Dykes brought the crowd to its feet on the game's first series with a piece of trickery that netted the Bears their only touchdown of the half.

Lined up for a 27-yard field goal, Jackson Bouza took the snap, flipped the ball over his head to D'Amato, then curled around the defense to his right.

As fans tried to decipher what was happening, D'Amato pushed a pass over the rush to Bouza, who scooted into the end zone for the 10-yard score and a Cal lead with 11:35 left in the opening period.

The razzle dazzle capped an 82-yard drive in which Bigelow ran three times for 55 yards.

The Wildcats answered immediately, going 75 yards in just five plays to knot the score on a 33-yard run by Green with 9:33 left in the quarter.

Northwestern went in front 14-7 when Trevor Siemian threw a 19-yard touchdown to Tony Jones, who beat nickel back Isaac Lapite down the right sideline with 12:53 left in the second quarter.

Siemian, who normally shares the quarterback job, played most of the game after Colter left early with an upper-body injury. Siemian finished 18 for 29 for 276 yards.

  • The Bears played without a pair of projected defensive starters, defensive end Brennan Scarlett (hand) and middle linebacker Nick Forbes (back), and sustained at least four more injuries during the game.

    Dykes did not know the extent of the injuries to Bigelow (head), strong safety Avery Sebastian (ankle), linebacker Khairi Fortt (head) and guard Matt Cochran (shoulder).

  • Dykes said he did not see the play with 10:30 left in the game where defensive end Chris McCain was ejected after a roughing penalty on Siemian.

    "They said it was targeting," Dykes said of the officials' explanation. McCain, under new rules this season, will miss the first half of next week's game against Portland State.

    For more on Cal sports, see the Bear Talk blog at ibabuzz.com/beartalk.

    SATURDAY'S GAME
    Portland State at Cal,
    2 p.m. Pac-12 Network

    digital extra
    To view a photo gallery of Cal's season opener, go to http://photos.mercurynews.com.

    INSIDE
    Columnist Monte Poole says Sonny Dykes' offense shows promise, especially with a freshman QB, but the defense needs work. PAGE 5