The California Golden Bears didn’t get everything they wanted this season, but they did make a bowl game, marking a modest but real step forward for the program.
The man at the heart of this improvement project in Berkeley was Jared Goff. He dazzled in September, especially when he rang up 45 points on a Charlie Strong- and Vance Bedford-coached Texas defense in the belly of the beast — on the road, at night, in Austin and a sea of Burnt Orange. Goff began this season by making reads accurately and quickly. His rapid-fire release propelled him up the NFL draft board, a point not lost on anyone in the scouting or evaluation industries.
Because of Goff’s meteoric rise in September, Cal’s hopes for this season entering the month of October contained some grand aspirations. The Golden Bears didn’t reach them, however; Oregon and especially archrival Stanford stood in the way of the Berkeley Boys on the way to a Pac-12 North championship and greater gridiron riches. Goff was flummoxed by Utah’s defense and flustered by many of the other defenses he saw as the season moved along. Team fortunes and personal goals both took a downward turn for Goff.
Yet, the quarterback and the team did not quit. A successful late-game rally against Arizona State gave the Bears a winning regular season, and freedom from the possibility that a bowl loss would result in a sub-.500 record.
Beating Air Force in Tuesday’s Armed Forces Bowl wasn’t going to make Cal’s season a complete success, but a victory in Fort Worth would enable the Bears to say that their worst moments didn’t define them. Displaying resilience — proving that their November struggles didn’t have a permanent hold on them — represented a primary reward for Cal as a whole.
For Goff, though, Tuesday’s tussle in Texas was about one thing: Nailing his last non-All-Star-style audition for the NFL.
It couldn’t have gone any better. Sure, Goff threw some incomplete passes (many of them under pressure), but he completed roughly two-thirds of his deliveries.
Moreover, his completions were slick, smooth, and occasionally spectacular:
The best pitch-and-catch play by Cal today, though there are many other worthy candidates. Via @ClippitTV https://t.co/NXzVTpudEZ
— The Student Section (@TheStudentSect) December 29, 2015
Throwing every kind of ball — to the wide sides of the field and down the middle third; short, intermediate and long; with touch, with range, and with extra mustard — Goff put on a clinic for all the scouts in the ballyard and for the many more evaluators watching on television. If an NFL throw was there to be made, Goff produced it. He riddled Air Force’s secondary for 467 passing yards and six touchdowns, without any of the interceptions which became a part of life in the Pac-12 portion of his season.
If Goff and California had left anything on the table in Pac-12 play, this 55-point performance from Sonny Dykes’s offense enabled the Bears to earn back a measure of satisfaction as they enter the offseason… and as Goff almost certainly heads for the NFL combine, en route to the draft in the spring.
The critics will say that this was Air Force’s defense, not Ohio State’s… and certainly not the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense, which has played at a very high level over the past month. That fact can never be wished away by Goff, but say this much for him: Given this stage, this opportunity, this opponent, he did the very best he could — not merely as an extension of effort and concentration, but in terms of delivering results.
Jared Goff made as loud a statement as possible about his readiness to play professional football. He should have a very happy — and lucrative — new year in 2016.