READ MORE: Day 11 Live Thread, News, Notes
BERKELEY -- The decision to name true freshman Jared Goff as California's starting quarterback was a "hard, difficult, gut-wrenching decision," according to Bears head coach Sonny Dykes, but it comes as no accident that the decision was made the day after redshirt freshman Zach Kline threw perhaps his most worrisome interception of fall camp.
On Thursday, Kline, at the end of his 11-on-11 series towards the tail end of practice, tried to throw a low touchdown pass to the front corner of the end zone, only to see it land right in the hands of Adrian Lee, who took the ball back 40 yards before the play was whistled dead. In a game, that's six points off the board for Cal, and potentially, six points on the board for an opponent.
While Kline's arm is perhaps the most outstanding tool of those possessed by he, Goff or Austin Hinder, it can get him into trouble, as he tries to fit balls into double or triple coverage, or take risks. When Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin weighed the pros and cons, the fact that Goff was more consistent, more accurate and took fewer risks added up to the quarterback that the Bear Raid offense would need when it debuts on Aug. 31 against Northwestern.
"We just felt like the accuracy and consistency, he took a little bit better care of the ball," Dykes said. "That's going to be big for us: Not turning the football over. We felt like that was pretty critical. That's the reason we did what we did."
Kline – who came out on Friday and had, by the coaches' estimation, his best practice yet – took that criticism to heart.
"This offense is all about speed, so you need to make the right decision, as quick as you possibly can, because you want the guy to have the ball in his hands so he can start running," he said.
The decision was far from easy for the staff, and took longer than they had hoped.
"We kind of hoped somebody would take it and run away with it, and that's not really what happened," Dykes said. "We had some very viable candidates, and we could have probably chosen either one. We made our decision solely based on who we felt gave us the best chance to win today. That's how we make all our decisions, really: What's the welfare of our student-athletes, and what's going to allow us the best chance to win. We felt that was the decision we needed to make."
Through 15 spring practices and a week and a half of fall camp, neither Goff nor Kline had pulled far enough ahead to portend an end to the race. While Kline would perhaps have had an edge under the old regime, given his experience with Jeff Tedford's offense, when the new staff came in, both signal callers were placed on equal footing, despite the fact that Goff was just weeks out of high school.
"The thing that makes him different, honestly, you think about it, he and Zach have had the same amount of time with us," Dykes said. "Jared enrolled early, so he went through the spring and so that was different, because he did graduate early and enrolled early and had a spring practice, so people talk about a true freshman – he's really not a true freshman. He's had a spring practice. He's had all the time from spring practice until two-a-days to learn the system and perfect his craft. To me, he's not really a true freshman."
While Kline is athletic, certainly, Goff is more adept at creating yards with his legs. His mobility, though, goes beyond just pulling the ball down and running.
"The biggest thing, for me, is the ability in the pocket – to be able to avoid pressure without running, which is to be able to slide, find a throwing lane," said Franklin. "A lot of what we do is styled after Peyton Manning, and so he did a great job of that, but the other guys got so much better, as well. Nobody made it easy. It wasn't easy."
One of the more significant criticisms of Kline coming out of spring was that he was still in love with his fastball – the hard missile throw with high RPM. Over the summer, he learned to develop touch – something that coaches had been telling him he'd have to as far back as the summer before his senior year, when he received that advice from Elite 11 coach Trent Dilfer. But, while he had to learn to slow down, Goff was able to get bigger and stronger and add velocity to an already advanced feel of touch and distance. That happy zone between the fastball and the change up was on full display on Friday.
Goff's first toss in seven-on-seven was a 30-yard bomb to Darius Powe, which he followed up with his only incompletion of the seven-on-seven portion of practice on a ball which Richard Rodgers could have caught. From then on, Goff was a machine, finding a wide-open Chris Harper on a comeback route on the right sideline for 10 yards, then Stephen Anderson for five. From the 20-yard line, Goff hit Kenny Lawler at the 10, and saw Lawler spin away from Lee for an additional couple yards. Goff finished his drive with a 20-yard touchdown to Brendan Bigelow on a quick sideline pass, which Bigelow took to the edge, turned the corner and accelerated in for a score.
At the 15, Goff hit Harper over the top of an overmatched Cameron Walker and Nathan Broussard, giving the ball just enough lift to get over coverage and just enough zip to get to the back of the end zone. Several moments later, Goff hit a picture-perfect back-shoulder fade to Lawler in the back right corner of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown.
"As we broke it down, we went into things such as the completion percentage," said Franklin. "The ability to take care of the football was a huge thing, which is not throwing interceptions and not fumbling the ball, feeling the pressure, knowing how to get out of it, and when we put all the factors together, Sonny and I agreed that we felt that was the best way to go, and we feel good about it."
While Goff insisted that Friday was just another practice for him, the confidence he showed after being named the starter was evident.
In 11-on-11s, with the pocket collapsing and Antione Davis within smelling distance of a sack, Goff stepped up and found Harper in the back right corner of the end zone for a long touchdown just as he was hit. It wasn't a freshman play; it was a football play.
"When all these guys come here, I tell them this: ‘You can be a freshman, or you can be a football player,' and I think he's a football player," Franklin said.
DAY 11: The Decision
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