Goff will try to match Mariota in Autzen

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
5:30
PM ET
California quarterback Jared Goff is the Pac-12's new big thing. The true freshman is headed Saturday to Autzen Stadium to play opposite the conference's biggest thing, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota.

Goff presently leads the nation in passing with 435.3 yards per game. Mariota presently, well, leads the nation, see the latest ESPN.com Heisman Watch poll, where he ranks No. 1 by a wide margin.

Goff has been throwing the ball all over the place -- sometimes not in the right place -- while the Bears have been playing one of the nation's toughest schedules. The No. 2 Ducks will be Cal's third ranked foe in the first four games and second top-five team.

Mariota? He's pretty much been doing whatever he wants. He ranks 14th in the nation with 296.3 yards passing per game and second in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QB Rating. The Ducks have dominated an early schedule that included AQ conference foes Virginia and Tennessee, ranking second in the nation in scoring (61.3 points per game) and rushing (355.3 yards per game).

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCal QB Jared Goff leads the nation in passing with 435.3 yards per game.
Goff is the up-and-comer on a team trying to regain its mojo under new coach Sonny Dykes. Mariota is the superstar on a team trying to win a national championship under new coach Mark Helfrich.

"They are as good an offense as I've seen," Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. "They are really playing at a high level. They've got a lot of weapons. They haven't turned the ball over this year."

That last point is most notable. Cal has turned the ball over six times, including four interceptions from Goff. Two of those picks went back the other way for touchdowns in the season opener against Northwestern, or that 44-30 defeat might have turned out differently.

Dykes lauds Goff for his ability to distribute the ball to playmakers, his accuracy and his knack for working within the pocket. It's not surprising, though, that when assessing the negatives thus far that Dykes sites Goff's decision-making and tendency to force the football into tight spaces.

That said, it's difficult to argue that Goff hasn't exceeded preseason expectations after surprising many when he beat out touted redshirt freshman Zach Kline in the preseason.

"The good thing about Jared is you can see him get better practice to practice," Dykes said. "He continues to improve every day."

The next test for Goff is playing in a hostile road venue, and road venues don't get much more hostile than Autzen Stadium. Which brings us to another notable Goff characteristic, one he shares with Mariota: a seeming unflappability.

While Mariota comes at it with a genial, mellow humility that belies his fancypants playmaking, Goff conducts interviews not unlike his QB hero, former Cal great Aaron Rodgers. He's laconic and all business.

When asked if anything has surprised him since making the jump from Marin Catholic to the Pac-12, Goff said, "On TV it looks like more than it is on the field." Meaning when you get past all the pageantry in major college football, it's still just football.

As for specifically playing in Autzen, he said he expects the experience to be "fun." He said noise won't be a factor because the Bears offense operates almost entirely on hand signals. Nerves? Nope.

"I don't anticipate having any sort of different feelings than I would if it were a home game," he said. "It's a regular game. We're just playing in front of a bunch of crazy people."

Of course, those are just words. Dykes admits you never know how a young guy will react on the road. Take Mariota. As a redshirt freshman last year, he made his first career road start against Washington State in CenturyLink Field in Seattle, and it was his worst game of the season. He threw two of his season's six interceptions, his only game with more than one pick.

Goff is wired well, but he simply doesn't yet understand how different the atmosphere of a road game is.

"What he does is a great job of not worrying about anything but just going out there and playing football and doing what he is coached to do," Dykes said. "We'll see how he responds, but I expect him to respond well. You never know until a young player gets put into that situation."

A bigger problem is Oregon itself. The Ducks offense likely will roll up points against the conference's No. 12 scoring defense (42 ppg). That will put pressure on Goff and his unit to keep up. Throwing 50-plus balls into the Ducks secondary, one of the nation's best, doesn't seem ideal.

Yet Goff seems undaunted.

"We're going to take it as a challenge and go up there and do what we do every day," he said. "We really feel our offense can score on anybody."

It's an interesting matchup, Goff versus Mariota. But the matchup of the new big thing and the established big thing probably will come down to Mariota having a lot more big things around him.

Ted Miller | email

College Football

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