A look at the current iteration of Cal football always needs to start at the quarterback position.
The quarterback is the most important player on a football team. The foundation of the air raid offense that Sonny Dykes brought to the Bears is strong quarterback play and passing the ball way more than the team runs the ball. 57.6 percent of Cal’s plays in 2014 were passing plays, and when a team passes the ball that much, the quarterback’s importance rises even beyond what it typically is.
For Cal, that means rising junior Jared Goff has a lot of pressure on his shoulders, but given his jump in performance last season, the pressure seems like something he’ll be able to handle. The numbers reflect much of this improvement, as Goff threw for 3,973 yards and 35 touchdowns last season, compared with 3,508 yards and only 18 touchdowns his freshman year. The next big place where Goff could improve in order to truly take the Bears’ offense to the upper echelon in college football is in his accuracy.
Goff completed 62.1 percent of his passes — a solid number that put him in the top 40 in the nation. But if he wants to justify all the hype he is receiving as a potential dark horse for the Heisman, Goff will need to focus on improving this number. His completion percentage is partially held down by the fact that defenses are usually ready to defend the pass, but he did occasionally struggle to complete some makeable passes. At the volume of passes the offense has him throwing, if he can get his completion percentage up to even 65 percent, it’d make a noticeable impact that could be enough to flip some of the tight losses Cal suffered last season.
The rising junior was just named to the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award, which, like the Heisman, is given out annually to college football’s player of the year. This means he is thought of highly in the sport, which means opposing defenses will be even more focused on slowing down Goff next season. One way they will likely do this is by blitzing and trying to force Goff into making quick decisions before he gets hit, which means he will likely be forced to throw some shorter passes — an area where Goff has occasionally struggled.
These blitzes, however, will also open possibilities for big plays. Cal’s receivers will be left to be covered one on one, as more defenders will be rushing the passer, and if they can beat their matchups, Goff will look to hit them deep downfield. He has solid arm strength and downfield accuracy, so it won’t be a shock to see the Bears get in their fair share of long touchdowns.
Another reason Goff will be so important for Cal is the team’s weak defense. The Bears gave up 39.8 points per game last season — good for 123rd in the country — and often left the offense in positions where it was down big and needed to pass the ball to get back in the game. Because the defense knew that Cal was even more likely to pass the ball here, Goff was put in a tough position. He managed to do pretty well in obvious passing situations when the team was trailing by eight or more, completing 63.2 percent of these passes in 2014.
While Cal is pretty set at the position with a successful player such as Goff, the Bears also made a habit of turning to backup quarterback Luke Rubenzer as a change of pass at times. The team did not have as much success in the instances where Rubenzer, a more mobile option at the position, replaced Goff. Opponents usually knew that if Rubenzer was on the field, the Bears were running the ball, so they limited him to only 3.98 yards per carry. He is transitioning to the safety position, so it seems likely that Cal will keep Goff on the field more often.
It wouldn’t be a shock if Goff, who is a projected top-10 pick in the NFL Draft, left Cal at the end of the season. In that situation, the Bears hope to already have their future of the position on the roster with incoming freshman Ross Bowers, who is talented enough that he might immediately step in as Goff’s backup.
With Bowers and Goff, the Bears can rest easily because both the present and the future of the team’s quarterback position is likely set, and the team can instead focus on improving the team’s other areas of need.