Cal football coach Sonny Dykes took a gamble when he chose true freshman Jared Goff as his starting quarterback in August 2013. At the time, Dykes called it a “gut-wrenching” decision.
Now, that decision is finally paying dividends. Through week four, Goff is third in the Pac-12 in both passer rating and yards per attempt, while having tossed 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions — one of which bounced off a receiver’s hands. Through the same point last season, Goff wasn’t nearly as effective. This year, he has a passer rating that is 50 points higher, is throwing for 2.5 more yards per attempt and is completing his passes at a rate four percentage points higher. Across the board, Goff has increased his efficiency in every relevant statistic this season.
This hardly comes as a surprise. Quarterbacks generally see their biggest jump in performance in their second year in a new offensive system, and that is especially true for sophomores in college who still haven’t turned 20. But Goff has done more than just develop — he’s gone from being an effective but relatively inefficient volume passer to a talented signal caller who wields the “Bear Raid” offense like Dr. John Thackery wields a scalpel.
It also helps that Goff has some of the most talented receivers in the conference. It’s a laundry list that includes Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper, Goff’s favorite targets from last season. Trevor Davis transferred from Hawaii, sat out last year and has been more than effective so far, having already racked up nearly 200 receiving yards. Stephen Anderson, Kenny Lawler, Maurice Harris, Raymond Hudson and Darius Powe round out a receiving corps that is filled with talented athletes from top to bottom.
Goff is running Dykes’ and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s offense the way it is supposed to be run: by spreading the ball efficiently and quickly. With a talented passer under center and an athletic and deep group of receivers, the “Bear Raid” is finally firing on all cylinders. Let’s take a look at how.
It’s midway through the second quarter of Cal’s 49-45 loss to Arizona on Saturday. But Cal is still ahead by 11 points, and the Bears are looking to add to the lead, sitting on the Wildcats’ 26-yard line. It’s 3rd down, with six yards needed to move the sticks. But the Bears are going for more than just a first down.
Cal lines up with Goff in shotgun and running back Daniel Lasco to his right. Four wide receivers — Anderson, Lawler, Treggs and Davis — are lined up in a staggered formation on the left side, looking like motorcycles racing down a highway, each offset from the other.
The defense has reacted to the lopsided formation, shifting most of its secondary to the left side of the field. Only two linemen have their hands on the ground, with as many as three others looking like threats to rush. Arizona blitzed often Saturday night, so there’s no reason to believe they won’t bring five pass rushers on this play. Lasco is in the backfield to block.
When Goff takes the snap, only four defenders come after him. Goff immediately looks left, aiming for a quick pass to Lawler, who, after briefly faking a go route, sprints back behind the line of scrimmage, ready for a quick screen pass. In a bubble screen such as this, the other three receivers block so Lawler can take the ball and weave his way toward a first down. But they aren’t doing that here — they sprint downfield. It’s a fake.
Lawler sells the fake brilliantly, and several defenders bite. Defensive back Jamar Allah, in particular, is caught looking in the backfield, even as linebacker Jared Tevis tracks down Lawler. Allah lets Treggs run right by him, flipping himself around too late to keep track of the speedy receiver. The rest of the linebackers on the play also hesitate — just for a moment — but it’s enough to let Treggs and Anderson slip by.
This is what Cal’s offense has been able to exploit all year: a deep receiving crew that forces the defense to pay attention to everyone. Arizona has to track down Lawler even though he’s a decoy, because he could have broken an explosive play had the ball actually gone to him. But in the second that the defense hesitates, other receivers who are equally as athletic fly by the defenders.
Goff rolls to his right, and he has nothing but open field as the offensive line effectively drives the pass rushers to the left. The defense has bitten on the fake so hard that Lasco doesn’t even have anyone to block. It’s almost too easy. Down the field, Anderson and Treggs have just one defender between the two of them: defensive back Jonathan McKnight. McKnight rushes to try and keep pace with Anderson, but it’s too late — Anderson is a few yards out in front. Goff makes the throw without thinking. Touchdown, Bears.
In the first half Saturday, the Bears’ offense operated at peak efficiency, scoring four touchdowns and racking up 358 total yards. Goff is the engine of that offense, but his receivers are the wheels. There are so many threats on Cal’s roster that it’s hard for defenses to keep up, and Goff often ends up with wide-open targets as the defenders focus on other receivers. It’s illustrated perfectly here, when the Wildcats bite on a fake to Lawler and pay for it.
Goff’s improvement has been profound. In the third quarter, he threaded a needle to Treggs on a pass that showed off his arm strength in a way Goff rarely did in 2013. His pocket presence has improved, too, with Goff avoiding the rush multiple times in the first half to connect with open receivers like he did on the first play of the game. I attribute a lot of that to the way Goff chops his feet in the pocket — it’s Peyton Manning-esque. Other times, he’s simply been able to get the ball out before the rush gets to him.
Goff is one of the best passers in the Pac-12 at this point. I’d say he’s the best Cal quarterback since pre-ankle-sprain Nate Longshore. But it’s not only Goff who has improved — the entire passing game is clicking in a way that is making it easy for him. This is the “Bear Raid” the way it was meant to be — at least through the air. While Cal was better on the ground against Arizona, Dykes and Franklin imagine their offense with a little more rushing involved, and Cal has still disappointed in that area this season.
But that is the only thing Cal needs to work on, because right now, the passing game is as lethal as Dykes advertised when he brought it to Berkeley 21 months ago.