Cal vs bye week post game thoughts

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

In which the bye week forces me to scramble to find something to write about.

Introduction

A week ago, I wrote in this space that I "try not to spend too much time writing about Jared Goff - as the quarterback, he already receives more than enough press, scrutiny, analysis, and general attention."

Well, clearly I don't have enough editorial integrity, because the rest of this bye week column is inspired largely by the one player I swore I wouldn't focus too much on.

Although this season has been dominated by Johnny Manziel's antics, talk about Alabama's vulnerability and more whispers of scandal, another interesting trend continues to bubble underneath all the SECentric hoopla, one that we can even see within our own offense.

Take a look at any team in the country, and the odds are getting better that you'll find a young quarterback in command - 6 of the top 20 and 17 of the top 60 passers in QB rating this season are in their first or second year of eligibility.

In a sense, this trend is not new - in recent years, we've been seeing more and more signal-callers who come in and immediately beat out long-established peers, slowly chipping away with the old adage that a starting quarterback must be an upperclassman. Many people attribute this development to an ongoing explosion in off-season 7-on-7 camps, which allow for year-round quarterbacking practice, and in turn, increased readiness in the mental department. Here's Kliff Kingsbury talking about exactly that.

Some of the names on this list are familiar. After all, just last season, Cal played against two of them in Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley, and there isn't a single person in college football who hasn't heard of Manziel by now. All three took over their offenses as redshirt freshman, and all three figure to be high draft picks whenever it is they leave college.

But, if we return to that sample for a second, we can find an interesting twist within that trend.

A surprising portion of this list is populated by true freshmen, who have played without the benefit of a redshirt year. They stand as testament to this growing youth movement and as proof that more and more coaches do not care about seniority. Our very own Jared Goff is in that group, but it also includes Texas Tech's Baker Mayfield, and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg. The fourth - Houston's John O'Korn - has seen spot duty, but made his first start against Rice this weekend.

CGB ran a roundtable last week asking where Jared Goff stands among Pac-12 QBs, but I'd like to narrow the scope even further - after looking at the stats, numbers, and what little tape there is publically available on the internet, where does he stand among his fellow freshmen?

Let's meet the players

Jared Goff, California. There isn't anything here about Goff I can add that we don't already know. Considering the massive expectations that surrounded Zach Kline, Goff came to campus this year with about as little buzz as a four star recruit could possibly have, and then surprised nearly everybody by winning the job outright during fall camp. The son of a former Cal baseball player, the Marin native grew up watching games at Cal, and the Bears are only too happy to have him now.

Christian Hackenberg, Penn State University. Every recruiting service had Hackenberg as either first or second among pro-style QBs last year, right up there with USC's Max Browne. As Penn State's first recruit of the 2013 class, Hackenberg admirably stuck with his commitment even the Sandusky scandal broke and other recruits were jumping ship - as his dad put it, three bowl games wouldn't make a difference.

Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech University. The only walk-on of this bunch, Mayfield didn't originally plan to end up at Texas Tech - in fact, he held out and hoped for a TCU offer that ultimately never came. When the Horned Frogs turned him down, he opted to head to Lubbock rather than take any of his other offers - including one from the Mad Pirate himself up at Washington State. Mayfield eventually won the job after presumed starter Michael Brewer suffered an injury during fall camp, and is believed to be the first true freshman walk-on to ever start a college football game.

The numbers

Completions

Attempts

Comp. %

YPA

Yards

TD/INT

QB Rating

Jared Goff (6'4, 195)

103

168 (55.7 per game, 168/284 [59%] of all plays run this season)

61.3

7.77

1306 (435.33 per game)

7:4 (INTs: 2.38% of passes)

135.6

Christian Hackenberg (6'2, 220)

79

127 (31.75 per game, 127/297 [42.7%] of all plays run this season)

62.2

8.09

1027 (256.75 per game)

5:4 (INTs: 3.14% of passes)

136.8

Baker Mayfield (6'4, 220)

99

150 (37.5 per game*)

66.0

7.47

1120 (280 per game)*

8:4 (INTs: 2.66% of passes)

141.0

* Mayfield suffered an injury in the TCU game and split time with Davis Webb during last weekend's game versus Texas State. Thus, it is not as useful - or perhaps more truthfully, just a lot more work for me - to calculate how often he has had to pass. Take his per game rate stats with a grain of salt as well.

The gap between these three guys actually looked a lot different before last week's games -- Hackenberg's completion percentage was 71% before an awful 13-of-35 performance against Kent State, and his YPA was a full yard better as well. He would have likely been the winner in any statistical comparison, but with that in the sample, things sure look a little more interesting, don't they?

Given that they are all relatively equal at the quarter season mark, I find it hard not to give the edge to Goff here, since he's played two ranked teams, one of which was No. 4 in the country. Hackenberg has yet to meet a real quality opponent of any kind, while Mayfield has cooled off considerably after a torrid start to his college career. Against SMU and Stephen F. Austin, the Texas Tech signal caller threw seven touchdowns to zero interceptions, but has one and four in the two games since then.

Meanwhile, Goff has had no trouble performing, regardless of who happens to be wearing the other jerseys, and he's kept tighter control of the ball than the other two while doing it.

For fun, here's another table detailing how each QB has done on third down this season. I am not sure what to make out of the third down conversion rate data, but have included it for your perusal.

Completions

Attempts

Completion %

Yards

TD:INT

Rating

Team 3rd down conversion rate

Goff

26

38

68.4

372 (9.78 YPA)

2:0

168.02

26 of 57 [45.61%, 50th in the country]

Hackenberg

15

30

50.0

145 (4.83 YPA)

1:2

88.27

11 of 52 [21.15%, 122nd in the country]

Mayfield

18

28

64.3

258 (9.21 YPA)

1:1

146.33

35 of 68 [51.47%, 21st in the country]


The tape

Goff

For this section, I observed or previously watched all *ahem* three of Goff's starts, as well as a good portion of his practices this offseason.

It's been a long time since Cal has had someone worth feeling confident about under center, but so far, Goff has given every indication that he can be that guy.

I'll start by talking about his deep ball, since that debate made up a large number of comments in last week's roundtable. My opinion? Goff hits that just fine and better than most quarterbacks we've had recently - and because he's come agonizingly close on a good number of others too, it almost makes him seem a tad inaccurate. Sure, his longer shots don't get there in the same hurry that a stronger armed quarterback might throw it with, but it's almost always close enough to give his receivers a shot.

With the exception of those two interceptions on deep passes - one on a terribly called flea flicker against Ohio State, one on a plain old misread against Northwestern - he's done just about everything anybody could ask for in this category. Goff has taken risks down the field when needed, and completed them at a pretty good clip without creating needless danger.

While it's true that his arm strength isn't the greatest, he throws deep balls well largely because of the fantastic touch that he possesses - the ball floats with enough air to let guys settle in under it, but not so much so that defenders can recover. And those fade routes? A thing of beauty, man.

One of the areas Goff still has to work on is in his ability to look off defenders and scan the field. He's thrown only four interceptions but has gotten lucky on a number of occasions so far this season - against Ohio State, several of his passes were telegraphed and perfectly read by the Buckeyes.

A second nit-picky flaw in Goff's game is how his accuracy tends to falter sometimes, and specifically in the second half, where Goff has a shown a consistent drop in completion percentage. There are a couple of possible explanations for this. One, of course, is that teams are making adjustments to him as the game goes on. The other seems a tad more likely - that he's simply just fatigued from all the passes he has to throw. I am figuring that this issue resolves itself in future years to some degree, because he hasn't had a chance to develop into a college football ready body. Harrington will take care of that, though.

He is also very clearly asked to do more than either, as well. Just something to keep in mind.

Hackenberg

I was not able to find any Youtube footage of full Penn State games, but I downloaded and watched their game against UCF for this section. Additional clips and information have been added where applicable.

Hackenberg is the only one of this trio yet to play a ranked opponent so far, but even when factoring that in, his completion percentage and his efficiency are still fairly impressive. He hits all the short throws accurately and with zip, just about as well as Goff does. The two are pretty even in this category, I'd say. Hackenberg is very strong in the play action area though, particularly with his ball fakes. I don't have an exact count of how many times Goff has fooled anyone with effective play action, but I'm willing to bet it's less than Hackenberg overall.

At 6'4, 220, Hackenberg is noticeably well-built and has a surprising mobility for that size. He won't run too often - he's in the negatives column for rushing this season - but don't interpret that to mean he can't move. From what I saw, he's more mobile than Goff - he just doesn't use it often. ESPN has him timed at 4.84, which would have been somewhere between Collin Klein and James Vandenberg last season. Oddly enough, I see an Andrew Luck type quality to him.

On deeper routes, Hackenberg's a bit more inconsistent than his California competition. You can see from these two plays that he tends to underthrow deep, despite a very strong arm. In the first example, that underthrow works to his advantage - it lets the receiver make a move on the oncoming safety that he might not have been able to otherwise. In the second, not so much.

Here's one more example from the UCF game. This is the only clip I can find of the play in question and the angle is poor, but this is a third instance in which Hackenberg doesn't put enough on his deep ball.

Another tendency of his is to miss guys really high, particularly in the middle of the field. No Youtube tape of this that I can point to for you, but it's noticeable enough that the Big Ten Network commentators mentioned it twice against UCF.

Fun fact, Bill O'Brien has had Hackenberg punt this season already. Score one for him.

Anyway, from what I can tell, Penn State's offense shares some commonalities with ours - there's almost always packaged bubble screens, lots of short passes, although tempo and spread aren't huge focuses. Schematic differences? Well, PSU will bust out two tight ends a good amount of the time and put Hackenberg under center a lot, which you will pretty much never, ever see Goff do.

Bill O'Brien doesn't appear to demand too much of his freshman quarterback. The game I watched showed very safe and efficient stuff from Hackenberg overall, with vertical passing only on occasion or off playaction. Every throw made down field was only to a very, very wide open player, and more often than not, Hackenberg's passes were just little checkdowns, bubble screens and passes to the flat, where his receivers would make moves in space. He also had the benefit of very solid pass protection. Penn State kept him clean most of the game.

Unlike Goff, who has been tested thoroughly in his first three games, I don't think we'll be able to conclude definitively how good he is until he faces a ranked opponent - or at least a team better than the likes of Syracuse or UCF. There's already signs of his performance sliding a bit, so check back on him. Michigan awaits a month from now.

I pulled some of these tweets from the Kent State game, though.

Mayfield

More tape is available on Mayfield than Hackenberg, but due to time constraints, I was not able to watch all the games. For this section, I watched Tech against SMU and TCU on Youtube, which I think is fair -- one good game, and one "bad" one.

Texas Tech's offense is much, much more similar to ours. Very high tempo, aiming to spread teams out across the field before attacking. Tech is quite a bit more varied in their formations, though, using some running back and wide receiver motions to supplement. [We have no motions in our offense that I've seen so far.] Otherwise, it's very close to the same stuff we run.

The first thing that pops out about Mayfield is that he is easily the most mobile of these three. He's also the only one who has positive rushing yards. Kliff Kingsbury has given his freshman quarterback the green light to scramble and installed designed quarterback runs, draws and sweeps in order to take advantage of his legs. Johnny Manziel is kind of the same prototype - thin and lanky but a total nightmare on the run - although to be clear, I am not saying that Mayfield is nearly as good. Or fast.

As far as actual stuff about his game goes, Mayfield is generally pretty conservative, often opting to take the easy throw or scramble when things aren't there. This trait of his - whether innate or built into the offense - has helped keep his completion percentage high, and he's got the best TD:INT to show for it.

He shows a developing awareness for where to go with the football, but doesn't quite display the same sense of cool as Goff when under fire. This moment is better, though. Fumbles have also been a bit of an issue for Mayfield, especially while scrambling.By comparison, Goff has very rarely looked like he's out of control or trying to do too much. There's an ease about him that makes him look rather veteran. Remember against PSU when he picked up a fumbled snap, rolled out and hit Darius Powe for a first down? The fumble in our end zone against Northwestern that he managed to turn into an incomplete pass?

Keeping in mind that I've only seen these other two guys behind a computer screen, I think that Mayfield definitely has a stronger arm than Goff, while Hackenberg's advantage in this area - if any - is quite minimal. Check out this throw for why I say that. Or this one. Or this. And especially this one, which gets from the right hash out to the left boundary like a goddamn bullet.

Goff's touch is more advanced than either of these two guys, though - I saw few completed passes by Hackenberg or Mayfield that rivaled the same degree of difficulty as some of the fade routes he's thrown. Maybe this, but there's a lot of room for Mayfield to work with.

Here's Mayfield's first interception of his college career, which comes when a TCU safety diagnoses the play and snatches it. He's waiting for his tight end to clear in the middle of the field, but the replay shows that he's being covered underneath by a linebacker, and then helped up top by some safeties. Not a good read on his part.

Second interception looks like it's just a good play by the corner - Mayfield has Marquez open slightly a comeback, but Kevin White either beats him to it or just takes it away from him before it hits the ground.

I actually thought he played pretty decently against TCU in the first half - 17-of-27, 206 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs - but the offense was really, really hurt by several penalty calls, ending drives prematurely and taking away some big plays. The second half was a different story, though. Mayfield would go 4-of-14 for ten yards after the break, largely because TCU's coverage got more aggressive on their short passing game, and they were able to get in his face more often. There were also some tighter windows downfield Mayfield wasn't able to fit a pass into. His final interception came on a pass that sailed high, bounced off his receiver and into the hands of a Horned Frog defender.

Conclusion

I am going to cop out - again, not enough editorial integrity - on actually formally ranking the three. Sorry if that's a bit anti-climatic. Anyway, after doing the research for this column, I come away immense encouraged with how much better Goff could/should/will be a year from now and with the knowledge that he compares very favorably with pretty much any quarterback his age.

There are plenty of advantages to playing a young quarterback nowadays, especially because you have more time to mold them in rep-heavy systems. Plus, they have get invaluable on the job experience, and some of the struggles they've had so far come from exactly that. Goff has yet to have an interception-less game against an FBS opponent, Mayfield's first game against TCU was pretty ugly, and Christian Hackenberg has some questions of his own still.

Still, the forecast for all these guys is bright. [You thought I was going to say Sonny, weren't you? NAH.]

But seriously - based on what these freshmen have shown so far this year, better days are likely ahead at all three programs.

Ours too.

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