Zach Maynard: Question marks after 1st start as a Cal Golden Bear

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Zach Maynard, to many’s surprise, rose up the Cal QB depth chart this spring to become Cal’s first “dual-threat” type starting QB since … well I’m not sure since when. He overstepped redshirt sophomore Allan Bridgford and incoming senior Brock Mansion and saw his first live action on Saturday against Fresno St. since the 2009 season with Buffalo.

It’s seldom heard of for a new QB to be criticized after an easy, opening-day victory, and while Maynard made a handful of impressive throws, his performance in the context of a Cal victory is, I would argue, a bit deceiving.

His final game stats: 16-35, 266 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 53 rushing yards.

I went over the game again and recounted each of Cal’s passing plays, because in the course of watching it live it occurred to me that Maynard was making many more poor throws than he was decent ones.  His shortcomings at Buffalo and his inability to prove himself as a passer there seemed to be on display for most of the night, with the exception of some near-perfect passes.

An example of Maynard’s Jeckyll and Hyde performance was the 8th Cal drive starting at the 4:10 mark of the 2nd quarter, the last drive of the half for the Bears.

"19. Complete (2nd and 5): Good read, PERFECT THROW.  A short hitch/stop route at the sideline to Calvin for about 5 yards.  Perfect 3-step drop by Maynard, good footwork, stepped into it and the timing was perfect, ball delivered on the money at the numbers.20. Incomplete (1st and 10): Poorly thrown 20-yard post corner route towards the right sideline intended for KA into double coverage.  Bad read — KA was double covered and too close to the sideline.  Ball shouldn’t have been thrown at all, but if it was, it should have been thrown much earlier.  ZM was off balance, throwing with his momentum going to the sideline rather than towards the receiver (he was concerned about the blitz even though he had a lot of pocket to step up in), and the ball was about 7 yards overthrown. Replay showed Calvin was wide open underneath KA’s route.  No excuses.  Maynard was looking in that direction, but it shows he was again fixated on KA and couldn’t get away from it despite the double coverage.(Next play was an easy throw but  well designed screen to KA, thrown on the money right, caught in stride, for a huge gain, but it was brought back due to a penalty)21. Complete (2nd and 25): PERFECT EVERYTHING. Out of the shotgun, Maynard has a perfect drop back, sets his feet, steps into the throw, and throws a strike to MJ on a post route for a 21 yard gain over the middle.  Timing was perfect; it was thrown soon enough before the DB stepped up and closed in.  (Again, though, ZM fixated on MJ from the get-go, and ZM will be put to the test when he teams take away his first and second read.  He’s had trouble up to this point in making plays when that first read is taken away.)  When will FSU start trying to take away MJ and KA by not giving them so much cushion?22. Incomplete (1st and 10): A 10 yard sideline comeback intended for MJ.  Well thrown given the circumstances: low, and away from the defender.  Well covered by FSU.  Unclear as to whether ZM could have gone elsewhere with the ball.  He did have time in the pocket.(Another Cal 1st down called back.  Maynard escapes broken pocket to find WR tip-toeing the sideline for a 1st down.  Hopefully this becomes Maynard’s forte).23. Complete (2nd and 30): Quick screen to KA on crossing towards the middle from right side for 13 yards.  Simple, short WR screen pass, delivered on time and on the numbers.  ZM seems to like scooting backwards and jump-throwing those WR screen passes towards the middle.24.  Incomplete (3rd and 17): Intended for Calvin on a 10 yard sideline comeback.  ZM throws off his back foot (feeling the pressure) and again throws far wide of intended receiver.  Didn’t give Calvin a shot to make a play.25. Incomplete (4th and 17): Sums up Maynard’s greatest strength and weakness.  Broken play, ZM rolls left, then back all the way to the right sideline, throws 50 yards deep into the endzone only to overshoot both a wide-open MJ and KA.  ZM’s talent afforded himself all day to find somebody, but when he did, his greatest weakness, in my view — his accuracy — cost Cal six points before the half.  Looks like it was intended for KA streaking towards the right corner of the endzone, though it seemed to come closer to an open MJ streaking up the right sideline.Drive Summary (3-7, 39 yards): Accuracy and reads are the main issue again in this drive to end the 1st half.  Penalties hurt the drive indeed, but ZM missed badly on three passes, one of them in the end zone.  His scrambling ability was on display, though, but penalties negated one of his flushes out of the pocket in which he converted for a 1st down."

After tallying up all the plays, of Maynard’s 19 incompletions, 12 were uncatchable.  This does not include throw aways, or plays in which receivers dropped the ball, or plays in which Maynard was severely flustered.

I outlined what I see as the central problem with the assumption that Maynard will adequately fix what we saw Saturday:

"My concern going forward is that his greatest weakness is the most important skill set to have and the hardest to teach and correct: accuracy — a QBs ability to deliver the ball where it needs to be.  Touch on the football — throwing the ball with the proper trajectory and speed for optimal efficiency — is a subset of accuracy, and I saw that he struggled mightily with his accuracy when he attempted to finesse the ball to receivers.  Also troubling is he struggled with his accuracy on very short routes on multiple occasions.  You can chalk this up to being away from live action for almost two years — and you might be right — but accuracy and touch (and pocket awareness) were also his rap at Buffalo.  It’s been well documented that he has never demonstrated the ability to be a consistent passer.  What makes one think that is all of a sudden going to change, particularly after such a poor performance throwing the football on Saturday?  It is not fair to think that a QB is going to all of a sudden change form being a wildly inaccurate passer — a label I would use to describe Maynard at this point — to a good one.   Some of his poor short passes were caught, others weren’t.  He had the most success with hitch/stop routes and WR screens.  And though QBs can become vastly improved reading defenses and going through progressions — all parts of becoming an excellent decision maker, a skill that cannot be understated — with time and proper tutelage, I think it is irrational to just automatically assume that they will, especially when it contradicts analytical observation.  It seems to me you can find many examples of QBs who never improved in this area.  A lot of these guys I’m sure you have watched first hand.  Some of them wore the blue and gold.  Also, some QBs simply can’t make quality throws without fixating on their primary receiver.  With the exception of a handful of plays, ZM locked onto his receivers.  As Cal’s competition stiffens, ZM will start to pay for doing that."

I was delighted to hear that Maynard had some really great perspective on his performance, and I think he realizes he needs to clean up his accuracy and his ability to read coverage/look off defenders/filter through his progressions when he said:

"Four-and-a half, five out of 10 I felt like. A lot of mental mistakes and not being very consistent with the ball. We had some good plays, but we’ve got to be a lot better than this. A lot of mental mistakes from our guys along with first game jitters. We got them all out and we’re going to be ready for Colorado next week."

He acknowledged he had a lot of good game film to learn from, which is always a good sign from a young, relatively inexperienced QB.

Maynard may be able to ward off the critics if Cal wins — and if they win big games — but until Maynard disproves the book on him — that he is a shaky passer — how does one not go off of what we already know?

Next week at Colorado will be very interesting, to say the least.