Big Game: Cal Offensive Preview

BERKELEY -- Tony Franklin calls the Stanford defense the best the Bears have seen, "by far," so what is it that makes the Cardinal so tough?



BERKELEY -- It hasn’t rained like this in Berkeley since head coach Sonny Dykes and his staff arrived as California’s new coaches, and it may very well rain on the Big Game for the first time in over 10 years, but, for Bears offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, he couldn’t have hoped for better on Wednesday.

“We need it,” Franklin said, and he wasn’t talking about drought-starved state reservoirs. “The mental part of practicing in the rain is good. The physical part, ehre’s adjustments to do on that, as well, so that’s good.”

Gone was the Gloff -- Jared Goff’s throwing-hand glove that he used last year in wet and windy conditions at Oregon and Colorado – and, Franklin says, the sophomore quarterback who’s two touchdown passes away from Cal’s single-season passing touchdown record has moved on from those weather-based struggles.

“He’s fine without ‘em; he’s moved beyond ‘em,” said Franklin. “He’s at another phase in life.”

On Tuesday, the Bears handed out a sheet of paper detailing Goff’s candidacy for national honors, and next season, it’s expected that Cal builds its first Heisman Trophy campaign around the now-sophomore quarterback since it built one around Marshawn Lynch. That sheet lists Goff’s entries in the Bears record books: Most passing yards in a game (527), most passing yards in a season (3,508), most 300-yard passing games (11), most 250-yard passing games (16), second-most passing touchdowns in a season (30), fifth-most passing yards in a career (6,906) and sixth0most passing touchdowns in a career (48), plus the fact that Goff is among the top 15 players in the nation in eight individual categories.

That said, Goff has been disappointed in his last two games, where he’s completed just 56.3% of his passes.

“I think part of it is that, as the season’s gone on, we’ve played better teams,” Franklin said. “A lot of times, the better the defense, the worse you look, and we’ve gotten into a part of the schedule where, defensively, we’ve played some people – we’ve got guys that are going to be the first pick in the draft, who are a little bit of a problem, sometimes.”

That two-game stretch marks Goff’s his lowest two-game completion percentage over two games – for just 556 yards – and his second-lowest two-game yardage total of the season, dating back to the first two games of the season. In those first two games, Goff had just 56 passing attempts. Over the past two games, he’s had 94.

“I think that, early in the game, for whatever reason, he hasn’t made as great decisions as he can make in our run-pass stuff,” said Franklin. “He knows that, and he sees that when he sees the film, and he gets it and understands it.

“He’s like everybody else: As the season goes by, there’s wear and tear, so he’s got mental and physical wear and tear, but he knows he’s got to play better.”

In the first quarters of the past two games, Goff has gone 11-for-27 for 106 yards (3.93 yards per attempt and a 40.7% completion percentage), after coming into the last pair of contests with 7.09 yards per attempt and a 71.25% completion percentage in first quarters.

“There’s a lot of stuff that I constantly look at, and am constantly working on. Early on, in the season, my feet were better than they are now, but that’s something I’m always working on,” Goff said this week. “My feet can always get better, can always improve. I’ve watched the film recently, and I can do a little bit better job of escaping pressure and helping my linemen out once in a while.”

On that account, Stanford will make Goff’s life as difficult as rain did last year in Eugene, when Goff was pulled after going 2-for-11 with two fumbles. Except, it won’t be water coming down on him this time; it will be Cardinal defenders.

Stanford has 33 sacks on the season, led by 5.5 from Peter Kalambayi, and the Cardinal have two players with 10.0 tackles for loss or more in Henry Anderson and Kevin Anderson.

“They’re the best defense that we’ve seen, by far,” said Franklin. “They’re uniquely different than anybody you watch on film. They’re physical, tough, they have very complicated schemes that are difficult to try to find stuff that you go, ‘Oh, wow, this is going to be good against that.’ They’ve built that thing right. Defensively, they’ve got a machine that just doesn’t seem to quit.”

Goff will have two of his favorite targets at even greater strength than they were last week, in Trevor Davis and Kenny Lawler. The two were just coming off injuries against USC, but have now had more time on the field, and running routes, though Davis has shown himself to be about half a step slow in one-on-ones.

“Definitely having them back again this week, they didn’t get much time to I guess get back acclimated to it last week, since it was a short week,” Goff said. “This week, I think, being a normal game week, where we practice Sunday, then day off, then the whole week, will be better for them. They’ll be ready to go, and I think they’re both going to have big games.”

There may be more space over the middle for the likes of Chris Harper, Stephen Anderson and Darius Powe, thanks to an undisclosed injury to safety Zach Hoffpauir (who has not played the last two games, and has not seen action in three of the last four). In fact, the three games in which Hoffpauir has not played (Arizona State, Oregon, Utah) have all been Cardinal losses.

Stanford boasts the best defense in the conference, and Cal the second-best offense. The Cardinal have the best passing defense, the best scoring defense and the best rushing defense. There is always a next man up, even if the first man down is Hoffpauir.

“They’re challenging,” said Franklin. “A good offense plays a really good defense, and you see what you can do. The objective would be winning, so if we have to score whatever, that’s fine, but if we score three, and they score two, I’m good. As long as we can win. We need to play well enough to win, whatever that takes.”

Cal’s offense is predicated on the big play, that uppercut or heavy right cross after short jabs that consist of runs of 12 yards or more and passing plays of 20 yards or more. The Bears have tallied a total of 78 such plays through the first 10 games of the season. Against Washington State, the Cardinal defense allowed but a single play of 15 yards or more. Yes, the Air Raid and the Bear raid are different systems, but they share the same DNA. Instead of just short passes and inside screens, Cal utilizes those, plus a run game.

“They’re so sound, and they play basic, fundamental football,” Franklin said of the Stanford defense. “They started a long time ago with coach [Jim] Harbaugh, with how they wanted to build their puzzle, and they’ve stuck to that plan. Now, you’ve got fifth-year seniors that have grown big, can run, the scheme is built towards what they were recruited [for]. They’re what you dread as an offensive coach to see. They line up good, they’re complicated, they’re all over the place and they play really hard, fundamental football.”


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