Sep 14, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff (16) prepares to throw a pass against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. The Buckeyes defeated the Golden Bears 52-34. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Jared Goff could be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. He’s probably the best freshman quarterback this season. But he’s still a freshman, and freshmen have a track record of making mistakes (especially when they play football on for an FBS athletic program). Goff is no exception to this logic, as he has yet to not throw an interception against an FBS opponent this season.
That said, Goff has played outstanding through three games. And against good competition. But this could be the very best defense Goff sees this season. This defense is certainly better than any defense Cal has seen thus far. So, the million-dollar question is: Will Goff be able to mature and play a mistake-free game against this Oregon defense?
The Oregon Ducks have one of the best defenses in the nation. They have allowed only 9 points per game, only three touchdowns have been scored on them and they have a turnover differential of +7. Keep in mind that while they haven’t played three national powers in three games; they’ve played a mid-tier SEC team in the Tennessee Volunteers and a decent Virginia team who could be a tough out in the ACC. Nevertheless, the Ducks dismantled both those teams plus Nicholls State.
Jan. 3, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oregon Ducks defensive back Erick Dargan (4) jumps to grab an interception pass that was intended for Kansas State Wildcats wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) as Oregon Ducks cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (14) defends during the second half of the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Ducks defeated the Wildcats 35-17. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
My point is: the Ducks have a very good defense. However, the matchup that will be pertinent to the outcome of the game is the secondary vs. Jared Goff.
The secondary includes about eight different players, all of whom are talented and could start at nearly any Division One program. At any given point, these men can take away the deep pass (something that Goff has grown considerably reliant on) and are able to neutralize the top-end speed found at the tops of the receiving depth charts. They rarely give away the underneath pass, so it’s not like you can Wes Welker the Ducks to death (and even if a team did try this, the Oregon linebacker corps could assure that this strategy is unlikely to pay off).The main players to watch in the Duck secondary are cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell; and safeties Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson.
As referenced in our “Know Your Enemy” earlier this week, Justin Phillips over at Autzen Zoo feels like the guy to watch in the secondary is junior Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Olomu is a physical defensive back who has the strength to play with the best of them. Don’t be fooled by his physicality, he is a speedster with a closing burst to keep receivers honest. He is not scared to play in either man to man, press or really any kind of coverage. He can, potentially, become a ball-hawk shut-down corner at the next level who’s aggressiveness can lead to a lot of turnovers at the next level. He has yet to record an interception this season, but had four last season (along with a Pac-12 leading 20 pass deflections). Olomu will likely be matched up against the top receiver of any team (Chris Harper in this case) and he is more likely to rise up and outplay his matchup than get overrun.
Opposite him will be Terrance Mitchell. In 2011, after starter Cliff Harris played himself out of the lineup, redshirt freshman corner Mitchell found himself playing. Since then, this man has held onto a job. He is a hard nosed defender who can be every bit as physical as Olomu, and maybe even a bit more. Mitchell does not have quite the same speed, which doesn’t mean he’s slow by any stretch, but it does mean that he is some that can (in theory) be beaten. However, the receiver going up against Mitchell must assume that the matchup will result in lots of bruises and welts.
Mitchell did find himself in some trouble this season already, as he was suspended for this big hit against Nicholls State quarterback Beaux Hebert. He was ejected.
Apr, 27, 2013; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks defensive back Brian Jackson (12) before the game at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Johnson works as the strong safety. He is the biggest man of the four starters in the secondary, weighing in at 197 pounds. He is undersized for a strong safety (at 5’10), but he is an instinctive defender who usually makes plays on what he sees rather than what is the “right play,” which could lead to some openings down field, but usually leads to inventive ways for the intuitive defender to beat the play. He is physical, like his counterparts, but his power may be underrated. He led the Oregon Ducks in tackles last season (69 tackles) and had nine pass deflections. This season, he has 11 tackles.
The guy to watch is free safety Avery Patterson. He ended his 2012 campaign by injuring his ACL towards the end of last season. The thing was – he was having a monster year. He started last season as the primary backup, but even still he managed to pick off three passes, two of which went back for touchdowns. The most important thing to keep in mind in regards to Patterson is that he can make a big play at any given moment. He does hit hard, as you can see. He has 13 tackles this season with one pass deflection and a pass breakup.
As a unit, the secondary has only allowed one passing touchdown and opposing teams average 189 passing yards per game.
Goff, meanwhile, averages 435 yards per game, about two touchdowns per game. He, as we know, loves to pass into deep, tight windows (and he’s been very successful with that so far, but that may not last against a secondary of this caliber. On the other hand, he wasn’t supposed to do well against the highly-touted Ohio State secondary, and I think he had his best overall game against the Buckeyes.
The key will be whether Goff becomes more prone to look for the intermediate threats rather than the receivers deep downfield who could get chewed up by this secondary.
All I know is this: this matchup will be the most fun match up we could see all season long. This defense (and secondary specifically) is full of NFL caliber guys who are not very easy to beat. That said, Goff is a phenomenal talent who is really unlike nearly every other player to have stepped onto the field for the Bears, and if anyone can figure this defense out, I’d bet this kid can. That said, this Oregon team, in my opinion, is one of two or three national championship-caliber teams out there, and I doubt they will lose to a rebuilding team like the Berkeley Golden Bears. Nonetheless, this is probably going to be one of the more exciting games either of these teams will see.