The California Bears got more of a challenge than they signed up for in taking on FCS opponent Portland State on Saturday in Berkeley's Memorial Stadium.
In the end, though, the Pac-12 team avoided two losses to open the 2013 season by narrowly escaping with a 37-30 win and giving head coach Sonny Dykes his first victory as head coach.
From the beginning, it looked as though the Bears were in trouble. Vikings quarterback Kieran McDonagh found Kasey Closs for an 81-yard touchdown less than a minute into the game. Thankfully, Cal responded with a seven-play, 63-yard drive, capped off with a four-yard touchdown run by Khalfani Muhammad.
Portland State running back DJ Adams ran for 139 yards and scored his touchdowns in the first half, the last of which made it 20-10 Vikings early in the second quarter.
It took a strong comeback effort orchestrated by Bears quarterback Jared Goff, who threw for 485 yards and accounted for the team's final three touchdowns.
A notable highlight from those was a 10-yard strike to sophomore wideout Maurice Harris, who climbed the ladder and hauled in his only reception of the game with one hand to give the Bears a 24-20 lead.
After McDonagh punched it in from one yard out to give the Vikings a 30-27 lead in the third, Goff gashed Portland State with a long touchdown throw of his own—a 75-yarder to Richard Rodgers.
The fourth quarter was scoreless, which was difficult to see coming considering all the offensive fireworks that defined the first 45 minutes of this unexpectedly competitive game.
As discouraging as this close call was, the good news for Cal is that its true freshman quarterback in Goff is showing grit and production early in his career. He threw for 445 yards in a 44-30 loss to Northwestern last week and displayed poise despite the early adversity the Bears faced in this one.
Two pick-sixes delivered by Goff crushed Cal in that game, but he did not throw an interception on Saturday. He bailed out a Bears defense that yielded 553 total yards of offense against the Vikings' pistol-based attack catalyzed by the dual-threat McDonagh, who threw for 308 yards and ran for 60.
The big difference came on third down, where the Bears converted 10 of 20 chances while the Vikings managed only three conversions on 12 attempts.
Next up on the schedule for California is a trip to Ohio Stadium next week to take on the AP third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
If Cal's first two games were any indication, it's the defense—not the poise of the precocious Goff in a hostile environment—that the Bears need to worry about in Columbus.