A few days ago, I touched upon Zach Maynard being utilized in a manner that wasn't conducive to an efficient offense. Instead of relying on a more run-heavy, play-action balance that might have allowed the Cal quarterback to settle in and adapt, the Cal coaching staff appeared to place him in a disadvantageous position on way too many occasions. That led to incompletions, sacks, draws on 3rd and long, and turnovers.
I'm not saying that Maynard is a bad quarterback--many of the things he had to deal with, particularly bad pocket pressure and deficient snaps, would cause a lot of quarterbacks issues in the pocket. However he is a bit limited, so it requires a lot more coaching to get him in advantageous positions. Asking Maynard to constantly make throws that he isn't capable of handling with accuracy and command just doesn't sit right. Asking him to sit back in the pocket and get battered, bruised, and scrambling for his life seems like an absolutely recipe for failure (and leads to plays as painful as Maynard nonchalantly trotting out of bounds for a three yard loss).
The offense should be the one getting Maynard going, not the other way around.
So how can we improve things with Zach? A few suggestions:
Run Zach Run: The Bears trotted out a few Maynard runs in the second half, and had success moving the football on their first couple of drives. Maynard's running ability was very beneficial to a Cal attack that had trouble moving the football any other way on the ground, and he seemed more at ease, particularly when Bigelow saw the field. During those drives Maynard had the appearance of being closer to prime form than he ever was.
If you take away all the sacks, Maynard was actually Cal's leading rusher when he was allowed to carry it, piling up 56 yards on 11 carries. It seems easier to pick up consistent yardage barring a total misread by the QB, and I didn't see Maynard make too many bad reads. It seemed like a situation where he was more comfortable and decisive.
I wish we'd stuck with the zone read/veer/midline concepts and made USC account for all 11 players. It's the type of offense that actually gives the Trojans trouble because they have to play disciplined (which they can struggle with) rather than just worry about winning individual assignments (which they usually always win against us). One mistake could have provided the Bears the breakthrough they need.
Yet when we got to the red zone, back to downfield passing. Bizarro.
Play-action off of Maynard's running ability and the Cal run game. We've tried it a little this season, particularly against Ohio State, and we were effective at moving the football. We went away from that entirely when we had trouble winning the battle up front, but I still think we strayed too far away from it.
Maynard enjoys his greatest success in a few situations: Play-action off of successful running, quick throws on stop routes, or designed half-rollouts and scrambles. Quick decisive one or two read plays where he doesn't have to worry as much about coverage and can let the football go. The more he's kept in the pocket, the more he has to think, and the more dangerous the play gets for the offense. That happened too often against USC.
Ability to run spread option variants: I'd like to see us incorporate more Oregon rather than USC to fit Maynard right. What about a zone-read play action? A zone-read bubble screen? Some triple option passing plays (fake handoff, draw in defender to throw over the top)? Some little simple pet plays that keep the Cal offense moving and cater to Maynard's strengths of improvisation and quick actions? Anything that gets the ball out quicker before the coverage can get there seems to be a sound strategy.
I don't mind Maynard as Cal's quarterback. I really don't. When he's on, he can game-manage just fine, which is generally all you need to be able to beat the majority of the foes a team faces. The concern is that we often tend to fail to consistently cater to his strengths while constantly forcing him to engage his deficiencies.
I'd just like us stick to what work with him. We did that against the Buckeyes, let's get back that to the approach and win doing it.
And if catering to his strengths doesn't work, then we know it's time to move on.