Cal football hopes improved offensive line play will help team make big jump

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For some teams, one small improvement in a certain area can lead to a chain of events that leads to a major overall improvement for the entire team. Last year, Cal football enjoyed a noticeable rise in production from its offensive line. And as a result, quarterback Jared Goff and running back Daniel Lasco significantly increased their production as the two led one of the most dangerous offenses in the country.

Goff had sufficient space to work in the pocket, while Lasco enjoyed running through wide gaps opened by the threat of the pass combined with a more physical and smarter offensive line. Goff finished in the top five for passing yards in the country with 3,973 yards, and Lasco rushed for 1,115 yards. Entering the 2015 season, Goff, Lasco and the other skilled position players on the team will be expected to come up with even better seasons, and with much of the O-line returning, there is no reason to think the upperclassman-dominated offensive line is going to slow down next season.

Although Goff posted solid statistics last year, he did still get sacked 26 times (the team total was 27). From one point of view, the offensive line had an off season, especially considering the kind of offense the Bears run. In every play, Goff is always at the shotgun, which means he starts off every snap with a 5- to 7-yard distance from pass rush. In addition, Cal’s Air Raid offense often relies on short and quick wide-receiver routes, so in the majority of the Bears’ plays, Goff lets the ball go within a couple of seconds.

But from a more positive viewpoint, 2014 was an improvement from 2013, when Goff was sacked 32 times in his freshman year. Also, Goff had 509 passing attempts (fifth in the country) and 55 rushing attempts, which totals to 564 times the ball was in Goff’s hand. That means the offensive line kept its quarterback from being sacked 95.4 percent of all snaps. That’s higher than Stephen Curry’s free-throw percentage.

And to put things into perspective, other Pac-12 offensive lines fared worse than the Bears’, such as UCLA’s Brett Hundley’s 38 sacks on 551 total attempts (93.11 percent) Arizona’s Anu Solomon’s 38 sacks on 677 total attempts (94.4 percent), Oregon State’s Sean Mannion’s 36 sacks on 501 total attempts (92.81 percent) and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota 31 sacks on 580 total attempts (94.7 percent). Considering the nature of the Pac-12, Cal has above-average pass protection.

As noted earlier, the offensive line will usually have an advantage over the defense in running plays because of the Bears’ pass-first offense. With defensive lines focused on racking up sacks because of how much Cal passes, the threat of Goff opens up holes in the middle of the line and sets his running backs up for positive yardage against a defensive line looking to swim and power through O-linemen rather than stuff running lanes.

Early projections indicate that the starter at left tackle will be redshirt junior Steven Moore with junior guard Chris Borrayo to his right. Snapping the ball to Goff will be redshirt junior Matt Cochran. On the right side will be redshirt seniors Jordan Rigsbee at right guard and Brian Farley at right tackle. Most of the five will be returning starters, except for Cochran and Farley.

The line next year will be older upperclassman who are used to the tempo at which Cal likes to play. There was a significant improvement from 2013-14, and the offensive line was a major factor that led to the Bears’ increase in wins. As the numbers show, there is still room for growth. With Goff entering his junior year, his line in 2015 might be the best he’s ever had, and if the O-line can elevate its play, there is a good chance the entire team will follow suit.

Ritchie Lee covers football. Contact him at [email protected].