This week: Bye
Sept. 28: At Oregon
The Scoop: Cal (1-2) has serious concerns about its defense heading into its bye week before its Sept. 28 Pac-12 opener at Oregon. But Jared Goff has provided a positive answer to what had been the Bears' biggest offseason question.
Cal entered the season with no experience at quarterback, a position that is important for all teams but is particularly critical in Sonny Dykes' spread offense.
When Dykes named Goff, a true freshman, his starting quarterback two weeks before the opener, there were doubts whether Goff could handle the responsibilities in Dykes' pass-happy offense against the level of competition Cal would face early in the season.
However, after three games, the doubts have been erased.
Goff leads the nation in both passing offense, at 435.3 yards per game, and total offense, at 429.7 yards per game. Goff has attempted an average of 56 passes in the first three games and completed 61.2 percent of them with seven touchdown passes.
Goff had thrown four interceptions, but two of them were tipped and were not his fault.
"He gives us a chance to win," Dykes said.
Perhaps his best asset is that he does not get rattled.
Cal got behind then-No. 22-ranked Northwestern by 10 points in the third quarter of the opener, and Goff threw two touchdown passes to put the Bears ahead. He and the Bears were ruined by a perfectly thrown pass late in the third quarter that bounced off a receiver's hands and into a defender's hands. It was returned for a pivotal Northwestern touchdown.
Cal trailed Portland State by 10 points before Goff provided a touchdown run and a touchdown pass that put the Bears ahead to stay.
In their most recent game, the Bears got behind No. 4 Ohio State 21-0 in the first six minutes of the game. But Goff threw two scoring passes as Cal got back in the game, trailing 31-20 at halftime.
The Bears eventually lost that game 52-34, but Goff impressed Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
"I think he's tremendous," Meyer said, "and I told him that after the game."
BYE WEEK GOALS: Slow starts and poor defense have plagued Cal in its first three games. Getting some injured players back may help the defense, but defensive coordinator Andy Buh has a lot of work to do to prepare for Oregon's explosive attack in the Sept. 28 game in Eugene, Ore. "Certainly, the way we're playing defense right now, it's not a good matchup for us," Cal head coach Sonny Dykes said. The Bears have yielded at least 500 yards in each of their first three games, and the problems have come in all areas. Ohio State had two touchdown passes of more than 45 yards, but a bigger problem is that Cal has yielded 5.9 yards per rushing attempt in the first three games.
Being focused at the start of the game is the other issue. Northwestern and Portland State both got off to 10-point leads in the first half, and Ohio State took a 21-0 lead in the first six minutes. Cal's explosive offensive has enabled it to get back in the game each time, but it has made things difficult.
-- Sophomore RB Brendan Bigelow has averaged just 58.3 rushing yards per game over the first three contests, and his average of 4.0 yards per rush is the lowest of the three Cal running backs who have received a significant number of carries. The Bears were hoping for more than that from Bigelow, who averaged 9.8 yards per carry in limited playing time last season and seemed perfectly suited to the spread offense Sonny Dykes runs.
-- Sophomore WRs Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs have combined for 49 catches and 641 receiving yards through three games. Treggs is averaging 108.0 receiving yards per game and Treggs 105.7, making Cal one of three FBS teams with two players averaging better than 100 receiving yards per game. SMU and Baylor are the other two.
-- Junior ILB Khairi Fortt, who sat out last season following knee surgery after transferring from Penn State, leads the team in tackles with 25. He also is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 2.5.
QUOTE: "We have started so poorly for three weeks. It's something that as a coaching staff we have talked about, and talked to some players about it. I don't really have an answer at this point, but it's something we need to get fixed." - Cal coach Sonny Dykes, after the 52-34 loss to Ohio State, a game in which the Bears trailed 21-0 six minutes into the contest.
ASSESSING THE CAL RUNNING GAME: Cal figured to rely on its passing game in Sonny Dykes' spread offense, but it expected to get considerably more out of its running game than it has so far. The Bears are averaging just 3.1 yards per rushing attempt in an offense that typically enhances a runner's yards-per-attempt average. Backups Daniel Lasco (5.4 yards per carry) and freshman Khalfani Muhammad (4.6) have been more effective than starter Brendan Bigelow (4.0). But the offensive line has not been opening many holes.
ASSESSING THE CAL PASSING GAME: Cal's passing game in Sonny Dykes' spread offense has been very productive. The Bears are tied with Oregon State for the national lead in passing yards per game (438.7), and Cal freshman QB Jared Goff leads the nation in passing yards per game. Goff and reliable WRs Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs have kept the Bears in games. The one shortcoming has been pass protection. The Bears have yielded 12 sacks in three games, and only one team in the country (Idaho) has allowed more. Even with the frequency with which Cal passes the ball, that's too many sacks.
ASSESSING THE CAL RUN DEFENSE: Every Cal opponents has rushed for at least 220 yards and averaged at least 5.2 yards per carry. And it seems to be getting worse. Portland State, an FCS team, averaged 6.3 yards per running attempt, and Ohio State averaged 6.0 per carry while rushing for 332 yards. The switch from a 3-4 defense used last year under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to the 4-3 used this year by Andy Buh has been unable to stop the run.
ASSESSING THE CAL PASS DEFENSE: The Bears' young and injury-plagued secondary has been scorched for 294.3 yards a game. That ranks 110th of 123 FBS schools. Because the Cal offense plays so fast and gets off so many plays, the Bears' defense must be on the field for a lot of plays as well. But that does not account for all the trouble Cal has had defending the pass. Although injuries to defensive backs have contributed to the problem, a bigger issue is the lack of a pass rush. The Bears have just three sacks in three games and seldom hurry the opposing quarterback. Cal started five defensive backs against Ohio State, which threw a 90-yard touchdown pass of its second play.
--SS Avery Sebastian is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
--DE Brennan Scarlett has not played this season because of a hand injury, and he is questionable for the Sept. 28 game against Oregon.
--MLB Nick Forbes has missed the first three games with a back injury, and it's unclear whether he will play against Oregon on Sept. 28.
--DT Mustafa Jalil has missed the first three games with a knee injury and is questionable for the Oregon game.
--DE Chris McCain did not start the game against Ohio State, but he played after missing the previous game with a head injury.
--WR Kyle Boehm, who was moved from quarterback to wide receiver during the spring, has been used as a running quarterback out of the wildcat formation this season. He ran the ball four times for 13 yards against Ohio State.