BERKELEY -- Sonny Dykes won over Cal fans on his first offensive series, calling for a fake field goal that resulted in a touchdown.

Even in defeat -- Cal lost 44-30 to No. 22 Northwestern in game that ended late Saturday night -- Dykes showed a crowd of 58,816 that this will be a team worth watching.

More important, he showed his young players they can be something, and that started with freshman quarterback Jared Goff. Less than a year out of Marin Catholic High, in his first collegiate game, Goff passed for 445 yards, a Cal record for a regulation game. Only Pat Barnes, with 503 yards in a four-overtime game against Arizona in 1996, threw for more yards.

"A heck of a performance by a young kid," Dykes said of Goff.

It was a noteworthy debut, too, for Dykes, the coach Cal hired from Louisiana Tech to replace Jeff Tedford after a 3-9 season. Facing a fourth-and-5 from the Northwestern 10 on the game's opening series, Dykes sent the field goal unit onto the field. Jackson Bouza took the snap, flipped the ball to kicker Vincenzo D'Amato, and the two connected on a 10-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.

"I thought we needed to play incredibly aggressive," Dykes said of the play call. "I thought our players needed to see as coaches we were playing to win, not to not lose. ... It was important to send that message to our players and, quite frankly, to our fans."

The difference in the game was two interception returns for touchdowns by Northwestern linebacker Collin Ellis, both on passes that were deflected. The second, coming midway through the fourth quarter just after Northwestern had broken a 27-27 tie, made the score 37-27.

"We've got a lot to build on with how well we played," said Goff, who threw 63 passes, completing 38. "We learned a lot of stuff. I had some bad luck, but that's no excuse. We'll come back stronger."

The Bears kept offensive coordinator Tony Franklin on the sidelines for this game -- normally he will be in the booth -- figuring he could help counsel Goff. It seemed to work.

"He kept his composure, even during times of adversity," said wide receiver Bryce Treggs, who caught 13 passes for 145 yards. "If we would go three-and-out, he came back the next time and made plays. That showed signs of a great quarterback."

On the down side, the Bears had running problems, penalty problems and injury problems.

Brendan Bigelow gained 55 yards on three runs to open the game, but Cal's backs totaled 56 yards on 25 carries the rest of the way. Additionally, Bigelow got hurt in the fourth quarter and did not return.

"We're disappointed the way we ran the football," Dykes said. "That unit up front's very young. It's going to be a heck of a unit, but part of their maturation is going to be learning how to finish blocks."

Cal was penalized 10 times for 79 yards, including false starts by three different offensive linemen in the same second-quarter series. The Bears also lost defensive end Chris McCain to a fourth-quarter ejection when he was called for "targeting" Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian. By rule, McCain must sit out the first half Saturday against Portland State.

As a result, the Bears could open that game without as many as five defensive starters. Defensive end Brennan Scarlett (hand) and linebacker Nick Forbes (back) sat out the opener, and safety Avery Sebastian (ankle) and linebacker Khairi Fortt (head) both were sidelined during the game.

For more on Cal sports, see the Bear Talk blog at ibabuzz.com/beartalk. Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at twitter.com/JeffFaraudo.