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November 8, 2011

COMMENTARY: Feeling the Love



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SAN FRANCISCO -- Talk radio was abuzz throughout the week with callers and hosts requesting the replacement of California quarterback Zach Maynard. Maynard's status on the team was in question with backup Allan Bridgford sharing first-team snaps with him for the first time since training camp.

It would have been easy to feel like the whole world was against him, but his teammates wouldn't allow that to happen.

"From the first game to right now, I never doubted Zach one second," said starting center Dominic Galas of his quarterback. "I have a hundred-percent faith. I love him, and he's our guy, so it wasn't like all that nonsense and stuff that was outside. We didn't let that affect us at all."

Galas was just one of many Bears who professed his 'love' for Maynard after Cal's 30-7 victory over visiting Washington State Saturday night at AT&T Park. It was that love and support from his teammates during the week that kept Maynard from being too anxious on the field.

"I felt more calm this week, more prepared," said Maynard of what it was like for him after accounting for five turnovers in Cal's loss to UCLA the previous week. It showed on the field. The junior transfer threw for just 118 yards, but he also threw for one touchdown and 10 completions on 17 attempts. His biggest improvement came in taking care of the ball -- he didn't account for a single turnover during the contest.

Ironically, Maynard's final play Saturday night came in the third quarter while recovering a fumble by tailback Isi Sofele.

Maynard's departure was part precautionary and part easing up on the Cougars, but it was also -- in part -- an opportunity to give his backup a chance to get some live-action reps in the event that head coach Jeff Tedford decides to make a change later in the year.

Teammates didn't just support Maynard after the win, but they were on his side the entire week while preparing for the game.

"I thought it was great all week long, that the support was there for him from our team, from the coaching staff, to give [Maynard] confidence to bounce back, because it's not easy," said Tedford of how the team rallied behind their current starter.

Despite the season the Bears are having, the disappointment his teammates have had hasn't been directed towards Maynard. It would be hard to blame them if they had.

For the season, Maynard has passed for 2,157 yards while completing just 53.7 percent of his passes (160-for-298) and throwing 10 interceptions in the process. Thanks to his 13 touchdown passes, his quarterback efficiency is 122.18. To put that into perspective, the same statistics would result in an NFL quarterback rating of 77.54.

It could be better. It could be worse. It's all in how you look at it, and Maynard has proven that he's a glass half full kind of guy.

"I think he handles that kind of stuff well," said starting left tackle Mitchell Schwartz. "The quarterback gets a lot of praise and they get a lot of the negative attention when the team isn't doing as well. Obviously, the interceptions aren't a very good statistic and that doesn't always tell the whole story.

"There's some times where he's pressured, he's got to change his throwing slot; that's on the offensive line. There's just other stuff that happens where -- I mean, it's hard to tell without looking at film, and you think it's all in the quarterback and it's not at all. So we know what we got with Zach.

"He's a really good quarterback -- he knows it, we all know it. You can see when everything is going well, what the offense can do, and what he can do specifically. So it's just trusting the whole unit to work together. We're all behind him, and we just gotta' keep getting better."

Schwartz made good points after the game. When you stop and think about it, Maynard didn't allow 31 points to the Huskies, or give up nearly 200 yards on the ground to Bruins' quarterback Kevin Prince. He wasn't playing defense when Oregon ran for 365 yards and he hasn't been the only player making mistakes on offense.

Maynard's mobility has taken the focus off of some of the lapses his offensive line has had this season. Statistics don't show how many times linemen tasked to protect him have failed miserably, because Maynard has been elusive in the pocket. The 17 sacks the line has let up this season could have easily been twice as much with a less mobile quarterback.

And yet, for all of the deficiencies surrounding him, Maynard is not absolved from his poor decision-making, lack of accuracy and his questionable arm strength. Because he's the starting quarterback, he can't be.

Because he's playing big-time college football in the Pac-12 for a coach whose reputation as a quarterback guru has consistently been tarnished since Aaron Rodgers left for the NFL, Maynard won't be afforded much more leniency than he's already received.

Through his struggles, he and his teammates have shown that they will continue to stick together, and that may be the most redeeming outcome of this season for the Bears. There's a lot to be said about a group that doesn't lose faith in one another.

"I speak for the team, everyone believes in everyone -- that they can do their job," said linebacker Cecil Whiteside. "Obviously, he hasn't been really doing that well with the picks and everything, but everyone has a belief in him that he can carry our team, and lead us to victory."

Even with that permeating confidence the team apparently has in their quarterback, Tedford made it clear that he doesn't want to see Maynard feel like the burden of Cal's fate on the field rests squarely on his shoulders.

"I think it's really important that he understands that he doesn't carry the burden of the whole team sometimes on his shoulders," Tedford said. "He's one player and everybody has to pull together with it, and the strength of our team lies within our teammates and the encouragement that we have for each other, and I thought our team did a nice job of pulling together that way."

Pulling through adversity can only make the team and its quarterback stronger, but the question is when that strength will begin showing consistently on the field. With Oregon State coming to town, the coming game may be another step in that 'positive' direction. Then again, it could go the other way for Maynard and the Bears.

If anyone can handle the criticism, it's likely Maynard can.

"Everybody has an opinion," said the signal-caller. "That's the way that you can judge anybody -- by any actions they take. Me and the guys put in hard work every week. We want respect; we want great results every week, so that's what we expect."

"Criticism is all talk, you know," Maynard continued. "I don't let it get to me. I try not to; try not to let it get a burden on me because I have to keep playing. I have to keep executing plays, we have to win ballgames. So, I just try to stay loose and just keep playing ball."

If he keeps performing like he did on Saturday, he'll continue to get that chance.


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