For Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, the lofty comparisons happen every week. It's a ritual during his Wednesday media availabilities -- he's asked to find an analogue for the upcoming opponent's quarterback.
This week, when Bedford compared California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff to former Cal star and current Green Bay Packers superstar Aaron Rodgers, it wasn't something that he took lightly.
After all, Bedfrod said that Goff is one of the best college quarterbacks that he's ever gone against in his career.
"He's the real deal," Bedford said. "This young man is exceptional."
NFL draft analysts agree -- when CBSSports.com released an updated 2016 mock draft this week, there was Goff sitting at No. 4, ahead of incredible athletes like Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil and Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith.
Only two games into his junior season, the 6'4, 215-pounder already holds 19 school records, twice setting the single-season record for passing yards.
Unlike the previous two quarterbacks faced by the Longhorns, Goff is a pure pocket passer -- his longest run at Cal went for 19 yards, one of only three times he's picked up more than 10 yards as a rusher. As a result, the Texas defense won't have to focus as much on lane integrity with the pass rush, so the hope is that defensive ends now able to get upfield could help force Goff to step up into some inside pressure from the defensive tackles.
It won't be easy to pressure Goff, however, as the Bear Raid offense, like most similar attacks, focuses on getting the ball out quickly. But since head coach Sonny Dykes likes to dial up some long-developing plays like a double corner-post combination that went for a long touchdown against San Diego State, Goff does have to buy time in the pocket, where's he's protected by a big, experienced offensive line.
Where many quarterbacks can let their feet die while waiting for opponents to come open downfield, Goff does not. Check out how he keeps his balance on this particular play.
If there's one mechanical issue with Goff, it's the fact that he often throws off of his back foot, a common ailment for quarterbacks with major arm strength. Still, it doesn't significantly impact him at the college level, so it's not something that will likely result in incompletions against Texas, especially if the Longhorns cornerbacks fail to maintain close contact with a talented group of Golden Bears receivers.
"He's tall, can release the ball, make the throws," said Texas head coach Charlie Strong. "He can make the difficult throws. A lot of times you see him throw the ball in the coverage, but somehow the receiver comes down with it. That's why our hands are full, we know we can't give him a window. If you give him a window, he'll make the throw and it's going to be completed."
Many quarterbacks who earn the title of "gunslinger" because of their willingness to take chances throwing into tight coverage end up throwing a lot of interceptions. There's a small sample size for this season, but it's surprising to see that Goff threw two interceptions against San Diego State last week because last season he only threw seven despite attempting 509 passes, a remarkable interception rate of 1.4 percent.
Since the California product throws so few interceptions, the easiest way to turn him over is to get pressure on him and take advantage of his ball security issues -- despite only taking 27 sacks last season, Goff fumbled the ball nine times, though the Golden Bears were lucky to recover five of those loose footballs.
Goff benefits from a lot of help from a deep corps of wide receivers, too. Six returning players caught 20 or more passes last season and four of them scored five or more touchdowns. There's plenty of size there since five of those six returning pass-catchers are 6'2 or taller. They also help out their quarterback -- Bedford said that each one goes hard on every play, even on the backside of route combinations, affording no rest to opposing defensive backs.
Of course, the fact that Goff can go through his progressions and is willing to distribute the football means that those receivers get rewarded for working hard, too. Through two games, 15 players have receptions, with five of those players recording touchdown catches already.
Since Cal will use the threat of the screen game to open up downfield passes, the Texas defensive backs have to be careful to make sure that inside receivers are actually blocking on what iniitially look like bubble screens. Against San Diego State, senior wide receiver Trevor Davis produced a big score running a go route on just such a play:
Because we just can't get enough of that Davis touchdown. #GoBears https://t.co/ZiKUGoIWXw— Cal Bears (@CalAthletics) September 12, 2015
The threat of these downfield passes means that the cornerbacks will have to give ground on these plays at the snap and the safeties must remain disciplined with their eyes -- attempting to blow up the screen quickly could lead to a wide receiver running free deep into the Texas secondary with no chance of stopping the long touchdown pass.
Assuming that Texas can take away the big play, many spread offenses have difficulty scoring in the red zone as the field gets contracted and there isn't as much room to manuever. Cal is not one of them, as the Golden Bears finished No. 9 nationally in red-zone touchdown percentage last year, converting 37-of-51 opportunities in 2014. So hoping to bend but not break against the Golden Bears isn't a particularly effective strategy.
Goff is an excellent college quarterback who looks to have a long and successful NFL career ahead of him, but he finds success with the benefit of the high-powered Bear Raid offense and a deep and talented group of wide receivers. Put it all together and Bedford and the Texas defense have a massive task ahead in attempting to slow down the Golden Bears offense.