Zach Maynard is starting a new era at quarterback for Cal football. There were a lot of good signs against the Fresno State Bulldogs, but there's a lot the Golden Bear transfer has to work on before he's truly ready for the teeth of the Pac-12 schedule.
Zach Maynard had adventures in his first start at quarterback for the California Golden Bears. It wasn't the cleanest performance, and he's got a lot of work to do before he looks ready to contend with Pac-12 defenses. But there's definite upside to Maynard if he can settle down in his fundamentals and polish up his technique.
There are lots of things to like though.
Maynard's connection with his top two receivers. Undoubtedly his greatest strength is his ability to find the top two playmakers in the offense. Maynard made some solid-looking throws, but Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones made great adjustments to haul in his more adventurous throws.
Maynard's connection with his brother was unsurprisingly natural. Maynard found Allen down the sideline on a corner route. He served a ball straight to his brother in double coverage that Allen found and hauled in.
Maynard didn't connect with Jones quite as smoothly, but Jones's adjustment ability made up for the slightly off-target throws. Jones had to reach out and grab Maynard's out pattern on Cal's first third down conversion of the game, twisting and contorting to grab that ball. Jones then hauled in his first touchdown catch by making an impressive vertical grab to outjump his defender when Maynard threw on a backpedal that floated up and high.
Maynard's ability to work the sidelines. Maynard really looked good in going to the outside and getting his receivers to catch balls that are out and away from defensive backs, particularly on throws to Jones and Anthony Miller.
This could force safeties to work outside, which will make the inside throws easier for Maynard and the Bears (with Allen usually as his main option on those plays).
Maynard's mobility. Maynard had a few nice designed running plays as well, including executing a solid zone-read that broke things open for Cal in the third quarter. But Maynard was able to elude defenders as well and pick up a few yards when he got flushed. The quarterback will probably have to make plenty of these small pick-ups when the offensive line sputters.
That being said, there are certain things Maynard has to work on before he's ready to really go up against the titans of the Pac-12.
Mechanics: When Maynard isn't feeling pressure, he's generally pretty solid. But when the pocket breaks down, Maynard gets a little unsteady. He backs away from his throw, he uncorks it, and that ball goes places that aren't his target. It isn't the worst situation in the world since it usually is overthrown over anyone, but sometimes that ball floats, and faster defenses will prey on those throws.
One such throw happened on his first touchdown throw to Jones. When the pressure started coming, Maynard backpedaled and honked that ball up into the air. Because it was one-on-one coverage, Jones was able to adjust, but against bracketed looks Maynard won't be quite as lucky.
Accuracy: After starting the game 7 for 11, Maynard just started missing throws, or receivers dropped passes, or the offensive line broke down--it was a collective team effort to bring that completion rate down to 45%. Maynard wasn't too far off on many of the throws he missed, so it's a deceptive sub-50 percent completion rate. But these are the little things he has to work on to move from being an effective Cal QB to excellent.
Going through progressions: Maynard's connection with his top two receivers sometimes causes him to lose sight of his other receivers. Jones and Allen became the go-to options early, and Maynard favored throws to them when the situation wasn't optimal.
Maynard would also force throws to one of his reads right into the teeth of the defense, and his receiver was in danger of getting crunched. Throws were in a decent spot, but it's just a difficult task to make plays when defenders are converging. Maynard will have to work at finding the opening man rather than always trying to put that one on a well-covered player.
Problems throwing from under center: Maynard was far more effective in shotgun than he was under center. But his center Dominic Galas STRUGGLED to get the ball back to Maynard on multiple snaps at shotgun. The ball sailed up (one went a good three feet over Maynard's head, but it was luckily negated by a dead ball penalty) and another led to a fumble recovery in the end zone in the shotgun.
In shotgun, Maynard didn't have to work too much on his drops, and could focus on releasing the ball down the sidelines. But Maynard looked far more tentative when he had to make a traditional five step drop and make plays in a pocket rather than a quicker decision from open space. In fact...
Footwork: Ding ding ding. Maynard likes to dance in the pocket. And football players aren't meant to dance. Maynard has a lot of work to do in that regard.
Zach Maynard knows there's room for improvement. But he can improvise and make things happen, and in college football, sometimes that's more important than the fundamentals.