Maynard under fire yet still under center

David Herschorn/File

Zach Maynard is still the Cal football team’s starting quarterback.

Heading into Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game against Washington State, this may not be what Bears fans wanted to hear. Take the commute across the bay and into San Francisco’s AT&T Park — chances are, you’ll hear some unfavorable opinions of Maynard tossed around.

This is a win that is both attainable and necessary for the Bears (4-4, 1-4 in the Pac-12) if they wish to pregame for the holidays at the Las Vegas Bowl or the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The Cougars (3-5, 1-4) are another team in the conference’s bottom-heavy logjam of mediocrity and have dropped four straight games by an average margin of over 17 points.

It’s a tired refrain, but Cal does not need Maynard to be the second coming of Aaron Rodgers. It simply needs him to be serviceable, something he has struggled with in two of the past three weeks.
After an uneven but promising start to the season, Maynard has been, by many measures, one of the worst quarterbacks in the conference. He has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in only two games; he balances this with a trio of sub-50 percent outings. The two Los Angeles schools have combined for 17 interceptions on the season, and seven of them flew from Maynard’s left hand.

UCLA’s Kevin Prince, who averages only 12.7 attempts per game to Maynard’s 35.1, is the only starter less accurate than the Cal quarterback.

“With experience, you hope consistency comes,” head coach Jeff Tedford said. “It’s not one thing. It can be a route, it can be protection, it can be a poor throw.”

In his Pac-12 debut against Fresno State, Maynard rated his own performance a “4 1/2 or 5 out of 10.” That September statline included 266 yards on 16-of-35 passing, two scores and an interception. His efforts since can be rated as high as seven (Colorado, Utah) and as low as one or two (USC, UCLA) on Maynard’s own scale.

Maybe going up against a Cougar pass defense that has allowed 11 touchdowns in the past three weeks will help him.

Then again, last week’s embarrassing loss came against a UCLA defense that nearly doubled its season-long interception count (now at nine) by picking off Maynard four times.

Tedford has endured a quarterback controversy before — a shuffled 2008 campaign between senior Nate Longshore and sophomore Kevin Riley that likely affected both their play. The ninth-year coach, no doubt eager to avoid the same situation, proclaimed Maynard the starter on Tuesday after leaving the question open three days prior.

Even so, job security doesn’t feel as safe as it did two or three weeks ago. Asked whether he feels certain about his starting job, Maynard said: “I feel like its up to Coach. Whatever he decides on game day, we’ll find out then.”

Backup Allan Bridgford may not be a better option. He has completed 12-of-29 passes for 179 yards in three games of garbage time. Whether or not he sees time on Saturday is still a question mark.

“I feel like I can lead an offense up and down the field,” the sophomore said. “I’m not the type of guy that’s going to lose a game for you.”

A midseason change could also cause a rift in the locker room, particularly when star receiver Keenan Allen is Maynard’s half-brother. The team is, for the most part, keeping any preference it may have close to the vest.

“Whoever is back there, I trust completely,” center Dominic Galas said. “I have 100 percent confidence in Zach and I have 100 percent confidence in anyone else.”