FORT WORTH, Tex. -- California quarterback Jared Goff stood at midfield, with his father, Jerry, and about 20 other family members, surveying what was likely the place of his final collegiate snap. It was a quiet moment. The 38,951 fans had all gone. All that was left were echoes. Goff stood there in his grey Armed Forces Bowl sweats, his Armed Forces Bowl Champion hat, and stared at his feet.
In his first game, Goff says, playing quarterback, "I think I threw the ball one time."
The journey of 1,000 miles does begin with a single step, after all. That single pass, and all the miles he's thrown for since -- 2.68 miles of passing yards, this season, alone -- have all led to one question: Does he stay, or does he go? The NFL beckons.
Only an hour prior, the 2,500 Cal fans in attendance chanted, "One more year! One more year!"
"It's funny," Goff says, "I was one of those little kids chanting that for DeSean Jackson about eight, ten years ago. It's funny. It's come all the way around. It's cool.
"I love our fans, and I appreciate all of them and everything they've done for me. And it's been a lot of fun to have them. I've been lucky. They've always had my back pretty much through everything, through the lows, through the highs. And it's been a good experience with them."
"I was chanting it too," laughed head coach Sonny Dykes.
"He's grown as we've grown," Dykes says. "We've grown as he's grown. He came in as a true freshman. Had to play and took his lumps. We took our lumps. And he's really matured, and we've grown up together."
The 46-year old head coach and the 21-year old signal-caller look at one another.
"This moment two years ago I was probably getting x-rays on my shoulder," Goff says, recalling the Big Game against Stanford, when Shayne Skov knocked him out of the game as he set (for the first time) Cal's single-season passing yards mark, which he's since broken twice more. "And I had shoulder surgery and came a long way since then. And, like Coach Dykes said, I've kind of grown up with the program and everyone has kind of grown up with me as well. It's been fun, though. It's been a fun ride."
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1605291-jared-goff-and-joe... It's a ride that may very well be ending for the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder out of Kentfield (Calif.) Marin Catholic. An announcement on his future -- whether he will declare early for the NFL Draft -- is expected soon. He's been almost universally picked in mock drafts to go fifth overall to his hometown San Francisco 49ers. The reason he wears No. 16 on his back shouldn't be a secret by now: He wears it for Joe Montana.
On Tuesday, Goff was at his best, but he had to get to his worst, first.
Goff had several early misfires -- four of his first 12 passes sailed high, including two to Darius Powe -- and an 0-for-3 drive to start the second quarter, even with starting All-Mountain West safety Weston Steelhammer ejected for targeting on an early throw to Bryce Treggs (Treggs, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, and Dykes all agreed it was not the correct call to eject Steelhammer), Goff had a hard time finding his rhythm.
Then, after he took a licking from Jack Flor on an incompletion to Kenny Lawler -- his first target of the redshirt junior on the day -- he got back up, and found something. He completed his next seven passes for 145 yards, including four to Lawler for 50, hitting "Vicinity Kenny" for two touchdown passes and Powe for one as Cal scored three times on its next three drives on just 11 plays.
I asked him if that hit knocked his targeting sensors back into alignment. After he, Treggs, Dykes and Stefan McClure had a laugh, he answered.
"I think sometimes, you know, they do some stuff that stops you," he said. "And you kind of have to fix it quickly. And I was able to kind of adjust to what they were doing. I think on that one drive I just missed three passes by about a yard. And, I mean, that happens sometimes. You try not to let it happen, but it does. And then I just got consistent. The guys got open and made it a lot easier for me. The O-line started to protect really well. And I'm just sitting back there, like you said, playing pitch and catch. And, when they're that open, I don't want to say it's easy. But it's not as hard as it would be if you had to fit one in there."
"He's a special player," said Air Force quarterback Karson Roberts. "Just the amount of -- the way he can get the ball out, the spots he can put it in. He's very accurate. He can put the ball in places where only his receiver can get it and it's really hard to defend."
Asked if the sky might be the limit for Goff, Calhoun said, "The sky might be too low, in terms of description."
"I mean, he's -- he is one heck of a player," Calhoun continued. "I tell you what, they do an awful lot with him, too. The amount of amount of protection changes, route changes. He sees leverage of defenders. And then after the ball is snapped, a good number of the run/pass options that they have. Pretty unique skill set."
Goff set the Pac-12 single-season passing touchdown record on a perfectly-thrown inside screen to Lawler with 17 seconds left in the third quarter, leading Lawler enough so that he could fine room to run for 25 yards and the score. The pass broke Marcus Mariota's single-season record of 42 scores.
Goff certainly benefitted from his veteran receivers, and they from him. On the play leading to that Lawler score, Goff slid left away from pressure, feeling the pocket around him and knowing where to move, and uncorked down field for Treggs. At first, the ball looked too far for Treggs, but it led him two steps ahead of his defender, and hit him in stride.
"We felt one of the keys was at least try to disrupt somewhat some timing and some rhythm," Calhoun said. "They did an excellent job in protection. And just -- there's some precision that's involved in terms of when the ball is released and a receiver coming out of his break. And some really, really fine throws and terrific catches, too."
After two early overthrows against Air Force's blitz, Goff saw a delayed linebacker blitz with seven pass rushers and found Lawler open on the right side on second-and-one for a first down in the second quarter. After two handoffs to Tre Watson, Goff found Maurice Harris down the far sideline and hit him over his back shoulder for a 40-yard gain, with Harris helping Goff out with a juggling one-handed grab. Goff put the ball in the only place he knew Harris would get it, but the defender would not.
"We did a little bit of everything," Calhoun said. "We played zone. We played man. We brought -- you know, you're allowed to bring anywhere from zero to 11. We used a good number of the numbers in there."
And, speaking of numbers, here are a few more:
Along with breaking Mariota's record, Goff's 4,719 total passing yards for this season are also a Pac-12 record, thanks to 467 yards on 23-of-37 on Tuesday.
He's thrown for 250 or more yards 30 times. He's thrown for 400 or more yards eight times, and 500 or more yards twice, setting the school single-game record with 542 yards against Arizona State in the regular-season finale. Yes, some of these gaudy numbers can be attributed to the Tony Franklin System, and some -- including Franklin himself -- say that the most important stat of them all is winning, and that the other numbers don't matter.
But, when all is said and done, Goff has been a generational talent. The way he manipulates safeties with his eyes, the way he can throw just over a linebacker to hump a pass in to a receiver up the seam -- as he did twice on Tuesday -- and the way that he runs the offense -- Franklin says that, at this point, he and Goff share a brain -- is, in a word, special. There's a reason he's so high on so many draft boards. Actually, there are a few thousand.
Goff holds 26 Cal records, including career passing yards (12,200), touchdown passes (96), yards of total offense (12,086) and completions (977). He's one of six players in Pac-12 history to throw for 3,000 or mroe yards in three seasons, and the second to throw for 3,000 or more yards in each of his first three seasons.
Goff has thrown for 300 or more yards in a game 10 times in 37 games. He's the 93rd player in FBS history with 10,000 career yards.
He's had 268 yards passing or more and at least two touchdowns in his final 14 contests. His 2015 passer efficiency rating will finish at 161.3, just behind David Barr's program-best mark (164.5) in 1993. Goff does finish ahead of Aaron Rodgers's 2004 mark of 154.3, though.
Goff's career passer efficiency is 143.95, ranking second behind Rodgers (150.3) and ahead of Barr's 142.6. His PER in what is likely his final game as a Bear? 227.1.
Goff did, though, break Rodgers's Cal record for passing yards in a bowl game. Rodgers was famously passed over by the 49ers in the 2005 draft for Alex Smith.
"He's definitely a good guy to idolize," Goff said. "He's done a lot of good stuff in the NFL and was a great player here."
It started with one pass. It started with one win, in 2013. And even that win was too close.
"We almost lost that game to Portland State," Goff remembers.
"Should have lost," Dykes interjects.
"It was as low as you can really go," Goff says. "And a lot of, a lot of work, a lot of work in the off-season. So much work. And I know the staff had the same thing. They're all working in the off-season. Put in the work and kind of start from the ground up again, right? Had to break everything down and bring it all the way back up. Running, lifting, everything, summer workouts, everything. It all worked into it.
"And then last year, like I said, being so close was tough as well. And we kind of knew we were taking a step in the right correction, though. And this off-season, again, work and work and work and work. And every single day, I was trying to get better and better. And coming to this year -- we kind of knew coming into this year, we had a chance to do something special and now sitting here with eight wins, I think we're pretty happy about it.
"When somebody grows up with a love and a passion for a school, it helps, just because that's what you want: You want kids that are really committed to the team, and have an unselfish attitude," Dykes says. "When you grow up cheering on a particular school, and you have an opportunity to play for that school, I think you play harder. I think you work harder. I think it means more to you, so I think we've been really fortunate to have him."
Will Cal fans be happy with Goff's decision? No matter what, they should be. Don't be sad it's over; be happy it happened. Bears fans got to see Aaron Rodgers in blue and gold for two years -- really, a year and a half. They got three years of Jared Goff. For me, I've seen him grow from a lanky, awkward kid as a juinor at Marin Catholic into a gawky, still-awkward young man.
"It was an unpopular decision," Dykes said this week, on naming Goff the starter in 2013, over presumptive savior Zach Kline. "After that first spring, we had a pretty good sense that it was going to be a challenge for us. We said, 'The biggest thing we have to do is to have something to build around,' so we needed to make a decision at the quarterback position. We kind of made an unpopular one. When chose Jared, there were a lot of people who thought we made a mistake at the time. We had some other quarterbacks in our system that they thought were better choices, but we had to stick through it, weather the storm, and we needed something to build on."
And Goff has certainly given the Bears that. This team is the 11th in Cal history to win eight or more games.
"He's been a great model for all of us," Dykes says. "He continues to get hit, and jump on up, go play another play. He's been the guy we could point to, and just say, 'Keep doing what you're supposed to do, just keep believing, and it's going to pay off for you.'"