Jared Goff leads Cal football to 55-36 win over Air Force in Armed Forces Bowl

Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

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In what headlines and talk shows speculated would be his collegiate finale, Cal quarterback Jared Goff decided to put on a show.

With 38,915 in attendance, the junior threw for 467 yards and six touchdowns en route to the Bears’ 55-36 win over Air Force in the 13th Annual Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, the team’s first bowl appearance since 2011. Goff capped off his day by adding more records to his name, including the Pac-12 single season touchdown pass record. Goff notched his 43rd touchdown of the year at Amon G. Carter Stadium on Tuesday, breaking Marcus Mariota’s previous mark of 42 while registering his 14th straight game with at least two touchdown passes.

“Good player,” said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, “You can certainly see why there are franchises and organizations that find him quite attractive.”

After winning the coin toss, the Bears opted to kick to start the half, hoping to get a look at the Falcons’ triple-option offense as soon as they could. Cal’s defense opened in 4-2-5 against Air Force, likely due to the barrage of injured linebackers, but showed little backbone against a scheme it had rarely seen before.

The Falcons marched down the field with little difficulty against a frazzled unit, eating up the clock while earning first down after first down. But on third and three in the redzone, Cal’s defense appeared to have gotten a stop on a pitch to wide receiver Garrett Brown after safety Stefan McClure blew up the play. But McClure was called for a facemask penalty, reviving the Air Force drive. The Falcons scored two plays later, with running back Jacobi Owens punching in the ball for the one yard touchdown run. By the time the extra point was pushed through the posts, Air Force had taken 6:27 off the clock on 11 plays — zero of which were pass attempts.

The Bears’ offense quickly responded on its first drive of the day. After a 32-yard gain by running back Tre Watson, Cal found itself at the Falcons’ 29. A third down pass intended for receiver Bryce Treggs bounced off the wideout’s hands, but a questionable targeting call on Weston Steelhammer negated the incompletion, disqualifying the All-Mountain-West safety from the game and leaving the Falcons without arguably their best defensive player. Running back Vic Enwere eventually knotted the score at 7-7, hurtling into the endzone almost untouched from the wishbone.

But the Bears’ offense seemed to outsmart itself on its next drive, after the defense had forced a Falcons punt. Following a 29-yard catch-and-run by tight end Ray Hudson that brought the Bears to the Air Force 10, Cal opted to call a QB keeper on third and goal. But linebacker Dexter Walker forced a fumble after Goff rushed straight into the Falcons’ sizable line, with DJ Dunn Jr. recovering the ball and taking it to midfield. But after reviewing the play, the referees determined Goff’s elbow had been down prior to the fumble, giving Cal another opportunity to put more points on the board.

The Falcons created a turnover on the next play, however, benefitting from Cal’s ill-timed play calling. With the field goal unit on the field, the Bears attempted a poorly-orchestrated fake, as the snap flew over the holder’s head and kicker Matt Anderson scrambled to gather the ball. But Cal left the sequence unscatched, as the Falcons failed to capitalize on the turnover on downs. The Bears later took their first lead of the game on a 30 yard touchdown pass from Goff to wide receiver Bryce Treggs, as the senior tied his father Brian Treggs for eighth on Cal’s career touchdown receptions list with 15.

Cal’s inconsistent defense reared its ugly head again to start the second quarter. Air Force tallied its first completion of the game as quarterback Karson Roberts hit Brown on a wheel route to bring the Falcons to the Cal 23. The Bears, who struggled to identify or defend the pitch all game, surrendered a touchdown to Tyler Williams on a left pitch to tie the score at 14 apiece.

From that point, the Bears took over, doubling their point total in just a handful of minutes. Cal finally discovered its rhythm and notoriously high-paced tempo, as Goff targeted wide receiver Darius Powe in the endzone on a five-yard play action touchdown pass.

Cal scored its next touchdown in a hurry, taking advantage of a sloppy Falcons fumble to take a 28-14 lead as Goff lofted a deep endzone fade to wide receiver Kenny Lawler.

After another Air Force touchdown, Goff connected with Lawler in the endzone for the second time, handing Cal a 35-21 lead at halftime. Goff’s six touchdown passes on the day marked the most by any player this bowl season while the Bears’ 35 first-half points were the most in Armed Forces Bowl history.

“I was able to adjust quickly. I just got consistent and the guys got open and made it a lot easier for me,” Goff said. “I was just sitting there playing pitch and catch.”

The Bears picked up right where they left off to begin the second half, as Goff found Powe for a 12-yard score to take a 42-21 lead, seemingly unsurmountable though only a few minutes into the third quarter. Cal managed to stifle any comeback attempt by Air Force, countering each Falcons score with one of its own.

But most of the spotlight remained on Goff as he finished the second half with 190 yards on 10-15 passing, continuing to polish his stat line as the Falcons defense fell apart against his arm.

“If he has the opportunity to be the first QB in the draft, I don’t think there’s much of a decision to make quite frankly,” said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes. “He’ll make the decisions for the right reasons. I have complete confidence in that.”

Michelle Lee covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @michelle_e_lee.