All eyes on Cal’s Jared Goff in the Armed Forces Bowl

Steve Palazzolo previews Cal's matchup with Air Force, including players to watch and a score prediction.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

(AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

All eyes on Cal’s Jared Goff in the Armed Forces Bowl

Bowl season is always a great time for unique matchups as Air Force’s option-heavy attack goes up against Cal’s passing attack led by perhaps the nation’s best passing quarterback.

Matchup preview

Air Force lost to San Diego State in the Mountain West championship game after a 6-2 conference record and 8-5 mark on the season. As usual, they rely heavily on their running attack, and this season they bring one of the more well-rounded defenses in the nation. As for Cal, they hung tough in a deep Pac-12, finishing with a 4-5 conference record and 7-5 overall. The roster was not up to par with many of their peers out west, but quarterback Jared Goff was one of the nation’s best and he kept them in every game.

Many analysts have pegged Goff as the top quarterback prospect in the nation, and while he’s yet to officially declare, this may be his last chance to impress scouts as well as the last chance for college fans to watch him in action. Our PFF grading has Goff set above his peers, placing him at second overall in the most recent PFF mock draft.

Whether or not it’s Goff’s swan song, the contrast in styles between Cal and Air Force is well worth watching.

Key Players

Air Force’s Alex Hansen, DE

One of the most underrated players in the country the last two seasons, Hansen received preseason PFF College accolades as our number five non-power 5 player to watch. While he wasn’t as dominant as his +36.8 overall season in 2014, he graded at +22.4 this year while maintaining his stake as Air Force’s best defensive players. He led the Falcons defensive line with 764 snaps, 227 more than the next closest lineman, and he was one of only two to grade positively as a pass rusher at +15.2. That mark ranked second in the Mountain West as he picked up seven sacks, nine hits, and 16 hurries on 372 rushes. If Air Force is going to slow down Cal’s high-powered offense, Hansen’s ability to get pressure will likely be the key to the entire game for the Falcons’ defense.

Air Force Run Blocking

Even with an offense based on deception, when a team has seven rushers with at least 300 yards, there has to be strong work happening up front. Air Force’s run attack is led by their guards, Colin Sandor on the left and A.J. Ruechel on the right. They are crucial in allowing Air Force’s skill position players, whether their plethora of running backs or quarterback Karson Roberts, get to the edge to make plays in space. Ruechel leads the way with a +25.1 run blocking grade while Sandor checks in at +16.3. The other key to the attack is tight end Garrett Griffin who graded at +14.7 as a run blocker last season and a +13.4 mark in only seven games this year. If Griffin can seal the edge with the guards leading the way into the secondary, Air Force’s run attack will be difficult to stop.

Cal’s Jared Goff, QB

We’ve already hinted that Goff was the feature attraction, but a breakdown of his numbers should help clarify why the NFL is watching him closely. He’s not just a one-year wonder as he ranked eighth overall among quarterbacks in our 2014 and he jumped up to number four overall in 2015 at +42.2. While he took a few more chances this year, putting the ball in harm’s way a more than we’d like to see, there’s no denying that he elevated a subpar Cal roster on a weekly basis against PAC-12 competition, perhaps the deepest conference in the nation this season. Goff ranked 11th in the nation in deep accuracy percentage at 50.6 percent and his 1,403 deep yards ranked third. Even with his ability to get the ball down the field, it’s largely a quick-hitting offense at Cal as 60.8 percent of Goff’s dropbacks last less than 2.6 seconds, the 23rd-highest percentage in the nation. That quick decision making has helped Goff grade well against both the blitz (+12.5) and when pressured (+6.5), and his well-rounded game may be taking the stage for the last time in his college career.

Cal’s Stefan McClure, FS

After an injury-riddled career at Cal, McClure has been an integral of Cal’s defense, and he managed to 698 this season after playing 520 a year ago. McClure’s +9.0 grade against the run leads the Bears as the free safety is often the last line of defense in the run game where he’s missed only two tackles all season. He’ll be one of the most important defenders on the field against Air Force’s option attack, so keep an eye on McClure’s ability to clean up any mishaps up front while also creeping into the box at times as the extra man in run support.


Cal’s passing attack proves too much for Air Force’s defense and Jared Goff goes out in style on his way to the NFL Draft.

Cal 35, Air Force 24

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

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