Goff presents major challenge for Falcons' defense

By Art Garcia, www.theheartofdallasbowl.com

Air Force junior cornerback Roland Ladipo doesn't have any illusions about Cal quarterback Jared Goff when Falcons line up against the Golden Bears in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.

"That's a top 10 quarterback right there," Ladipo said. "He can make all the throws and it should be a challenge, but we're just going to do our job out there, and try and put ourselves in good spots."

Goff isn't the first golden-armed QB the Ladipo and Co. will face this season. In addition to quarterback talent the Falcons see weekly in the Mountain West, the Air Force secondary was tested by Michigan State standout Conner Cook earlier this season.

Goff, by all accounts, is a cut above most college signal callers. The junior is expected to be one of the top picks in the NFL Draft.

"Jared Goff is as talented a quarterback as you're going to see in college football," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "Very quick release, extremely accurate, tremendous velocity. He knows exactly where he wants to go with the ball. He knows who is number 2, 3 and 4 in a progression. He gets to them and gets balls completed."

The challenge for the Falcons' defensive secondary is stout.

"That's one area we're going to get stretched," Calhoun said. "You look at some of the games not just this year, but as you go back to the last season, too, and you see some of the numbers that Cal puts up, unbelievable.

"Just a production of the passing game. It's unlike maybe anybody in college football. So we're going to have to come up with a tremendous plan. And, certainly, we're going to get stretched, especially in regards to our pass coverage."

Air Force's defense is up to the task. The Falcons were third in the Mountain West in both points and yards allowed, while leading the conference in sacks.

Air Force hopes to pressure Goff and force throws in coverage. Ladipo led the MW in pass breakups (15th nationally) and tallied three interceptions.  Junior safety Weston Steelhammer picked off a team-high five passes. Senior defensive lineman Alex Hansen topped the Falcons with 7.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.

"We're an aggressive defense in general, so we're not going to hold back in this game," Ladipo said. "We're still going to put some pressure on that quarterback draw, and try and put them in some uncomfortable positions, and hopefully we'll be able to force some turnovers."

Ladipo is quick to point out that Goff doesn't give up on routes easily. Cal's receivers are also skilled and find a way to get open.

"We've just been talking about how well their receivers are with their routes and how well they connect with their quarterback on those comeback routes," Ladipo said.

The Falcons will see Goff and his crew firsthand in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 29 at Amon Carter Stadium at 1 p.m. CT on ESPN

Art Garcia, the Assistant Athletics Director for Communications for UT Arlington, has spent nearly 20 years as a sportswriter.  He’s worked for NBA.com, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the San Antonio Express-News and the Bryan-College Station Eagle. Garcia has also written for FoxSportsSouthwest.com, ESPNDallas.com, CBSSports.com, in addition to other national websites and magazines.