Cal quarterback Jared Goff turned 21 last Wednesday and marked the occasion by going out to dinner with his family at a local seafood restaurant. By that point, he said, lingering frustration from his previous game had started to dissipate. It felt OK to celebrate – a little.
Goff was – and still is, thanks to Cal’s bye last weekend – coming off a narrow loss to then-No. 5 Utah in which he threw five interceptions, four in the first half. Entering that Oct. 10 game, Cal was undefeated and Goff, the sleepy-eyed junior from Marin County, had been garnering national attention as an outside candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Both fronts took a hit in the Bears’ 30-24 defeat.
Afterward, Goff told reporters it had been “probably the worst game of my life.” But Sunday, Goff said he had moved on within “a couple days.” By midweek, Goff already had pored over film from the Utah game, noted his mistakes and begun to turn his attention forward. Goff and 20th-ranked Cal return to action Thursday night against UCLA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
I don’t feel like I have to prove anybody right or wrong. I’m going to play my best game, and whatever happens, happens.
Cal quarterback Jared Goff on his mindset for Thursday’s game against UCLA
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Some national pundits, meanwhile, seemed just as quick to move on from Goff’s play in Utah – with a caveat. ESPN’s NFL draft expert, Mel Kiper Jr., had Goff as the top-rated college quarterback before the Utah game, and afterward, he mostly came to Goff’s defense on his ESPN podcast.
“Don’t overreact to this game,” Kiper warned. “It was a bad game for Goff. One of those interceptions wasn’t his fault. He made some good throws, he made some awful throws. And he’ll have a chance to redeem himself.”
And that, for some observers, is the latest turn in the Goff narrative. Two years ago, Goff stepped in as a true freshman and led a Cal team that went 1-11 in its first season under coach Sonny Dykes. Since then, Goff has broken more than 20 program records for passing and offense, and Cal’s return to relevance has coincided with his emergence as a national entity. Soon, Goff will have to decide whether to leave school early for the NFL draft, where most projections have him among the top quarterbacks potentially available.
So where will the Utah game ultimately fit in? As an aberration, easily dismissed? Or, coming as it did under a national spotlight, as a reason for worry?
“Up until this last game, (Goff) had done a great job of taking care of the ball – being a gunslinger, but also understanding how to manage the game to avoid those risks when it’s not necessary,” said NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks.
“The Utah game kind of got away from him,” Brooks said. “He forced the ball a little bit. You just wonder on the big stage, with everybody watching and so much buildup to that game … if the pressure got to him.”
Brooks said Goff can allay such concerns with a sharp game against UCLA. He said NFL scouts might study the Utah game to see whether Goff became “a little gun-shy” after the turnovers, but that the more telling film could come from the next few games.
“Not all turnovers are necessarily bad things, but it’s about the response, the resiliency,” Brooks said. “The more important part is, how does he recover?”
ESPN analyst Danny Kanell said Goff did make some poor decisions against Utah but noted Goff’s demeanor during the second half.
“Even watching him within that game, he was never rattled,” Kanell said. “It wasn’t like he looked like he didn’t belong there or was going to quit. He kept battling and still had his team in a place to win that game in the last seconds.”
Having watched Goff since 2013, Kanell said he has seen the junior develop as a passer. Critics might attribute Goff’s gaudy passing numbers to Dykes’ offense, but Kanell said Goff has made throws that would translate into any system.
“The types of throws that he makes under pressure, when he’s about to get hit, the ability to stand in the pocket and stare down a rush,” Kanell said. “That’s the kind of stuff that’s next-level stuff.”
Brooks also praised Goff for his arm strength, athleticism and situational awareness, and he pointed out that Goff has joined the conversation of top college passers despite being less heralded than some of his peers coming out of high school.
Dykes said Goff has “done the things we’ve asked him to do” in terms of standing in the pocket and has mostly shown good judgment between making difficult throws and forcing unwise ones.
Even watching him within that game (against Utah), he was never rattled. It wasn’t like he looked like he didn’t belong there or was going to quit.
ESPN analyst Danny Kanell on Cal quarterback Jared Goff
“He forced a couple (against Utah) and I think it was a little bit of a byproduct of our football team wanting to win really badly,” Dykes said last week. “I think that was across the board at all positions on offense, not just the quarterback.”
After practice Sunday, Goff told reporters he had watched the Utah film multiple times and it wasn’t as bad as he expected. But he found areas to address and, before he takes the field against UCLA, will have had 11 days to do so.
Asked Thursday if he feels he is playing to uphold a reputation, Goff chuckled softly.
“No,” he said. “I mean, I’m just going to come and play the same way I’ve played every game and let the ball fall where it may.
“I’ve prepared pretty hard this week and I’m ready to go. I don’t feel like I have to prove anybody right or wrong. I’m going to play my best game, and whatever happens, happens.”
By the numbers
Cal quarterback Jared Goff’s key statistics this season in six games:
- Passes attempted: 225
- Passes completed: 150
- Percentage: 66.7
- Yards: 1,970
- Touchdown passes: 17
- Interceptions: 9
- Passer rating: 157.1