Entries in Jared Goff (3)


‘Little miscues,’ McCaffrey decide the Big Game

By Art Spander

STANFORD, Calif. — One of the stars almost certainly is done. Jared Goff has one more year of eligibility, but the thinking is he’ll leave Cal, enter the NFL draft and be selected very high and thus become very rich. The other star, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, is not going anywhere, except through the other team’s defense.

As Saturday night he went through the Cal defense. For 389 yards, rushing, receiving and on kickoff returns.  Dashing, rumbling, bashing, bouncing, scoring. “He’s a physical runner,” said Cal coach Sonny Dykes, in affirmation. “That’s not hard to see.”

What Dykes and everyone else at Stanford Stadium for the 118th Big Game saw were bravura performances by Goff, the junior, who threw 54 times, completing 37 for 286 yards and two touchdowns, and McCaffrey, the sophomore, who leads the nation in all-purpose offense. What they also saw was another Stanford victory, defeating the Golden Bears, 35-22, the sixth in a row for the Cardinal in what loosely might be termed a rivalry.

“I have not seen anybody like this kid,” Stanford coach David Shaw said of McCaffrey.

It was a bit better of a game than the last few of these. Cal only trailed 21-16 with some five minutes to go in the third quarter. Still, Stanford wasn’t going to lose, not the way it was tackling, or failing to tackle, or being penalized.

Stanford (9-2) is the better team, which meant if the Bears were going to win they had to be effective and alert. Which they weren’t. “Penalties killed us,” said Dykes of drives that got to to the two and the eight and the 11 and got nothing more than field goals. And that sloppy defense was no less critical.

That’s bully-ball played by Stanford, blockers crushing defenders so the running back or the returner — McCaffrey in most of the cases — often was unhindered. That 98-yard kickoff return for a TD by McCaffrey just before halftime, and just after a Cal field goal, was perfect. If anybody touched McCaffrey it was one of his teammates in the end zone, joyfully offering congratulations.

“I thought that was a momentum-breaker,” said McCaffrey. The Bears had moved to within 14-6 and, whoosh, it was 21-6. “We tried to tackle him,” said Dykes, in his third year as Cal coach. “We got guys in position. We just couldn’t tackle.”

This was the sort of game that would confuse those obsessed with statistics. Cal had 495 yards total offense to Stanford’s 356. Cal had the ball 31 minutes, 16 seconds to Stanford’s 28:44. But Stanford kept Cal from touchdowns — more on that later — and Cal couldn’t stop Stanford.

Maybe when the ball was inside the Stanford 10, or just outside, the Bears should have gone for the end zone on fourth down. Settling for three points when you’re behind is not very advantageous.

“If we had scored on third down,” said Goff, who just missed on a couple of those chances, “we wouldn’t have to ask about going for field goals.”

Or as Dykes glumly confirmed, after Cal dropped to 6-5, “Dropped the ball the first series, missed a pass when Kenny (Lawler) was open in the end zone. Just little miscues. That was kind of the difference for us.”

Little miscues in the Big Game, which because of a TV delay — the Arkansas game preceded it on ESPN — began at 7:41 p.m. PST, the latest ever for a Cal-Stanford meeting. It ended before 11, which isn’t bad, if you’re fortunate to live in the Pacific time zone.

Not that people in New York or Philly have much interest in anything west of the Sierra Nevada, other than the Warriors.

The Cal-Stanford series has been very streaky of late. Before the current stretch of six in a row by Stanford, it was Cal taking seven out of eight.

Before they left the pre-game locker room, the Bears heard Dykes tell them, “Do whatever it takes to make tonight a special night.” What it took was the kind of sharp play, especially on defense, that Cal still seems incapable of executing.

“When you have almost 500 yards of offense against a good defense,” said Dykes, “it’s a little bit frustrating when you score 22 points and don’t win the game. But as I said, penalties really, really hurt us.”

So did Christian McCaffrey, and he’ll be back, whether Jared Goff will or not.


Cal can't keep composure — or the football

By Art Spander

BERKELEY — So this was the year Cal had a chance against Stanford, the year the Golden Bears had a defense and had tenacity. What they didn’t have one play into the game was their starting strong safety.

What they often didn’t have after that was discipline. Or, more critically, the football.

The air shooshed out Saturday virtually as the balloon was inflated. All the excitement, the hopes, the possibilities, disappeared in moments.

An ejection. A rapid 10-point deficit. Dejection.

The sun came out above Memorial Stadium after a morning rain, but the day metaphorically was dreary for most of the less-than-capacity crowd of 56,483.

The Cardinal was too much for Cal, maybe not as much as 2013 when the score was 67-13, the most one-sided in the history of a series that now has reached 117 games, but plenty nevertheless.

The final this time was 38-17, and the way the Golden Bears played defense, made penalties and threw interceptions, you never felt Cal had a chance. Both teams entered with 5-5 records, but there was no question one was superior.

“Frustrating” was the primary word tossed around in the Cal post-game comments, followed by “disappointing.” No one expected the Cal people to be pleased. Yet the remarks are becoming litany, and for the faithful, the Old Blues as Cal alumni designate themselves, agony.

The game overall was a bewildering mix of mistakes and official video reviews. In the third quarter alone, Cal had three touchdowns overruled on three consecutive plays. But good teams overcome all that incidental stuff. Bad teams don’t.

Was it a shock that on the first play from scrimmage Cal strong safety Michael Lowe was penalized and ejected for what the official believed was “targeting,” driving his helmet into Stanford tight end Austin Hooper? Of course.

“In 20 years,” said Cal coach Sonny Dykes, “I have never seen something like that happen the first play of the game. I wish that something like that wouldn’t affect us as much as it did. It affected me, and I think it affected our players.”

Which tells you perhaps as much you need to know about Cal. It is an improving team but also a fragile team, working its way back from a 1-11 record in Dykes’ first season. One blow knocked it off kilter.   

Not that Stanford’s defense and a Cal offense, which lost four turnovers — against a team that only had nine takeaways all season — weren’t major factors.

“They are a physical team,” Dykes, painfully honest about his program and other programs, said about Stanford. “And they laid some pretty good hits on us. They did a nice job tipping a couple of passes, and you have to give them credit for that. We have to make sure we move the pocket and make space.

Starting quarterback Jared Goff threw a couple of those, which were tipped and picked. His alternate Luke Rubenzer also threw two interceptions. Running back Daniel Lasco fumbled near the goal line, Stanford recovering. And there you have part of the tale of self-destruction.

“Our kids really wanted to play well,” said Dykes. “We really wanted to play well as a coaching staff. Our fans wanted us to play well. We didn’t make a very good showing today, and I am really disappointed about that.”

Goff, the sophomore, broke his own single-season record for passing yards. He had 182 Saturday on a so-so 16-for-31 completion mark and now has totaled 3,580 for the season with a game left to play against Brigham Young.

“They’re playing Savannah State,” quipped Dykes. “Probably winning 120-0, getting their confidence.” (It was only 64-0, but his point was understood. BYU gets a lot of points. And the Bears give up a lot of points.)

Goff, said Dykes, didn’t have one of his better games. “When you face a good defense,” reminded Dykes, “you have a small margin for error. Five turnovers are pretty significant errors.”

And 113 yards in penalties (Stanford had 21) are no less significant.

“I am disappointed in the way we played,” said Dykes. “I anticipated us playing better football. It was a bit of a strange football game, and it certainly didn’t start the way we wanted it to start.”

It didn’t end the way they wanted either. Stanford has won the last five years, half a decade. Somehow, Cal has to find a way to keep the other team out of the end zone — Stanford’s Remound Wright tied a Big Game record with five touchdowns — and, no less importantly, find a way to keep its composure.


Cal coach: ‘I knew it wasn’t going to be all rainbows’ 

By Art Spander

BERKELEY — It was an interesting comment from Sonny Dykes, on the day of his 44th birthday, on the Saturday afternoon his Cal football team was beaten — no, embarrassed — by USC, 62-28, at home.

“I expected to walk out after halftime,” said Dykes, “and see nobody in the stands. The fans stayed. It was really inspiring.”

The first season at Cal for Dykes. An awful season at Cal for Dykes, a team with too many freshmen and not enough self-belief, a team lacking a defense and even now, after losing eight of its nine games, lacking experience.

The Trojans, always the curse of the Coast no matter how competent Stanford or Oregon or even UCLA become, had their own troubles early in the schedule. So athletic director Pat Haden changed coaches, ousted Lane Kiffin and replaced him for the rest of the season, at least, with Ed Orgeron.

USC again looked like USC, maybe not right but full of speed — the Trojans returned three punts for touchdowns Saturday, tying an NCAA record — and agility.

Cal looked like a lost cause, even after cutting an immediate 21-0 deficit to 21-14. At least to our vision. But Dykes saw something else, a future, and reasons for that future. He’s a realist, certainly. A 1-8 record is unacceptable, even if it is understandable.

He’s also an optimist.

“I knew when I took this job,” said the man who replaced Jeff Tedford, “it wasn’t going to be all rainbows and puppy tails. Did you watch Stanford beat Oregon (Thursday night)? Stanford had 15 seniors on defense. Of our top 44 players on offense and defense, we only had three seniors.”

Maybe the numbers are not specifically accurate. Maybe there are a couple more Cal players or fewer Stanford players, but the idea stands. Championships are won by veterans, athletes who know the whys and wherefores. Mistakes are made by freshmen.

“Experienced grown men win football games,” Dykes said for emphasis.

Fewer than two minutes into this football game, USC’s Nelson Agholor, a letterman last year, took a punt return 75 yards into the end zone. In the second quarter Josh Shaw would pick up a partially blocked punt and run a short 14 yards for a score; then, still in the second quarter, Agholor would return yet another punt for a touchdown, this run 93 yards.

“I’ve been dong this a long time,” said Dykes, “and that (punt coverage) has always been a strength of ours. Our team last year at Louisiana Tech led the entire nation in net punting. We start three practices every week with our punt returns. We’re using freshmen. At Louisiana Tech we had one freshman who played half a game, that’s all.”

There are no excuses in sports, even when excuses are allowable. If someone goes down, it’s next man up. Or next kid up. Dykes doesn’t want sympathy. Only perception, which from the reaction of the Cal fans who stayed to endure, he already has.

“We were forced to play a lot of young players before they were ready,” he said. “We were decimated by injuries. A young team, and we lost games early. We lost confidence. It’s OK. It’s been a tough year, but it’s going to pay off.

“They are going to get tougher and have been game tested. In a weird sort of way, the experience they have gotten this year and the hard luck will help our team respond faster.”

Cal has a freshman quarterback, of course, Jared Goff, although it could be argued that after nine games he’s almost a sophomore. The trouble is Goff hasn’t had the reassurance of success.

He’ll play well a few downs — he did throw three touchdown passes Saturday, two to Kenny Lawler, also a freshman — then sputter.

“We try not to look at the scoreboard too much,” said Goff. But looking at the scoreboard is what everyone else does, on television, at Memorial Stadium, from the flanks of Tightwad Hill.

The coaches and players rate progress. The rest of us judge results.

Goff threw for 288 yards, Cal gained 483 yards running and passing, not too far behind USC’s 499 yards. Then there were the three Trojan punt returns for touchdowns not included in that total.

It is defense where Cal has faltered most. The Bears were last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense before USC. Then they gave up 62 points more. 

“Hardy Nickerson went down early,” Dykes said about the starting middle linebacker — who is a freshman but also a star. “He makes all the (defensive) calls for us. We were down to one middle linebacker, Chad Whitener. We were trying to make contingency plans. We missed a lot of checks and rolled coverage the wrong way.

“But we are going to get this thing right. I feel more strongly about that right now then I did December 5 when I was hired.”