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November 2, 2011
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BERKELEY -- It's been seven years since California head football coach Jeff Tedford was at the peak of his powers as a so-called 'quarterback guru.'
Tedford plucked an unknown Aaron Rodgers out of Butte Community College, had him put the pigskin on a high shelf and rode him all the way to a top-10 ranking. The Bears had toppled USC -- and the Memorial Stadium goalposts -- and finally emerged from mediocrity and into the national conversation.
Since then, only one signal-caller -- Nathan Longshore, pre-ankle injury -- has at the very least lived up in some small way to Rodgers' -- and Tedford's -- legacy. After Longshore went down with a severe ankle injury against Oregon in 2007, something in the program seemed to break. And it wasn't just Longshore's ankle.
From the time Tedford took the helm in 2002 until the end of the 2006 season, when the Bears earned a share of the Pac-10 title, Cal went 43-20. The Bears averaged 2,808.8 passing yards per season and 34.08 points per game. From 2007 through 2010, Cal went 29-22, averaging 2,651.5 passing yards per season. Counting this season, the Bears are 33-26, averaging 29.2 points per game.
[Statstical Breakdown: Passing]
Where once Longshore played tug-of-war with Kevin Riley, now, current quarterback Zach Maynard -- brought up by Tedford early in the season as being the only starting Pac-12 signal-caller who wasn't with his team last season -- stands in the spotlight, for better or for worse. Lately, it's been for worse.
After starting his Cal career with three straight wins and seven straight games with at least 200 yards through the air, including a dramatic -- if perhaps unnecessary -- overtime win at Colorado, Maynard has dropped four of his past five, throwing seven interceptions to one touchdown in the past three weeks. After a four-pick performance against UCLA, and another turnover coming on a fumbled exchange with tailback Isi Sofele, torches have been lit, pitchforks sharpened and sandwich boards painted.
"We know what we've got to do: we've got to win," Maynard said.
On Wednesday, Tedford responded sharply to a request for an update on the quarterback situation.
"Nothing with the quarterbacks, OK? Nothing new with the quarterbacks. Next question," Tedford said.
Maynard has now thrown 10 interceptions to 12 touchdown passes, ranks 81st in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passer efficiency rating and owns a 53.4 completion percentage.
This week in practice, Maynard has surrendered a few first-team reps to backup Allan Bridgford.
"It's about the same, but we've switched," Tedford said. "We've given Bridge a couple more reps with the ones, Zach with the twos, because you don't want to take Zach's reps away, because he needs to keep improving, but you also want to give Bridge some reps with the ones, in case it would ever come up that he goes in there, they're used to his snap count and things like that."
Maynard has been working with Tedford and quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo on solving some of his accuracy issues. What has he been working on in particular?
"Same things. Making good decisions with the ball and being accurate with the ball. He did a good job with that," Tedford said. "[Wednesday was a] tough day to throw the ball in this wind, but he did a good job."
When asked if Maynard has struggled with his accuracy in practice, Tedford seemed to take exception, and, without prompting, cited his former charge: Rodgers.
"No. I mean, from time to time, like everybody, nobody's perfect. No one is perfect. Aaron Rodgers is not here, alright? So, if we miss a ball here or there or whatever, it happens. Alright? It happens to Bridgford, it happens to every single one of our quarterbacks, OK? Aaron Rodgers plays for the Green Bay Packers. He's the only one I know that's close to perfect," Tedford said.
Maynard, for his part, has tried to focus his attention away from public scrutiny, preferring to concentrate on affairs between the lines and trying to improve.
"I feel it's the same to me: just work hard in the classroom and on the field," Maynard said of his week on campus since the debacle down south. "I just take every day one day at a time.
"It really doesn't matter to me. It's just me. I take it one day at a time and I just have to work out all the things that I did wrong on the field, work harder in practice, as well as on my school work, stay on top of that."
There has been no shortage of critiques on Maynard's performance over the past several weeks, but he has focused on keeping his eyes on the field and has answered every question posed.
"It's all media stuff, and it doesn't faze me at all," Maynard said. "We're taught to ignore that stuff, and just keep playing ball. We still have to play, we still have to come to practice and show up. We just have to keep pushing through that adversity."
That's not to say that Maynard is oblivious, or even dismissive, of his critics.
"It is up-ticked when we do bad and we don't execute as properly as we should in games, and it's frustrating for everybody, not just the fans," Maynard said. "It's frustrating for us, as well. We have to come back and work and just keep working and working."
Tedford has continued to show loyalty to the young man he named the starter after spring camp, and made it a point this week to publicly name Maynard the starter for this weekend's tilt against Washington State, saying as much on Tuesday. Maynard, though, was uncertain.
"I'm not sure," Maynard said. "It's up to coach. I'm just practicing, working hard and whatever he decides on game day, we'll find out then."
"If I felt like it was going to be a change, I would tell him that there could be a change, but no, he's going to start the game," Tedford said on Wednesday. "He's got to focus on what's important, and that's his preparation of mentally and physically, emotionally, all of that, and we've talked about that as a team; not just him, but everybody. But, unfortunately, the quarterback bears the focal point of everything, and it's part of the position. That's part of learning the position, to play quarterback, is that everyone's going to have an opinion. When a day doesn't go well, everybody has an opinion. It goes both ways. The Utah game, plays great, everybody wants to give him high praise, but we can't let that get over our head, either. We've got to keep everything even."
Maynard's little brother -- wide receiver Keenan Allen -- was visibly frustrated after the UCLA game, but remains supportive of his older sibling.
"It definitely does piss me off, just knowing what he's capable of and knowing that it's not all his fault," Allen said of the criticism. "It's people in the stands, people in the media, they don't really see the film after the game and know what really happens during the plays. He's a quarterback, so he's going to take all the blame. That's part of being a quarterback.
"I definitely just try to keep his confidence high, especially for us receivers, so he can get a good ball out there and we can try to make a play on it, so I feel like that helps him a lot."
Allen has more than held up his end of the bargain, ranking second in the conference in receiving yards per game (123.6) and receptions per game (8.4). He is sixth in the country in receiving yards (989) and eighth in receptions (67).
While both brothers understand the criticisms leveled, that doesn't make them any easier to take.
"It's kind of hard when you don't know what you're looking at, coming from somebody that's not on the field," Allen said. "I kind of do get mad. He's handled it really well. He doesn't really get into the media stuff, so he just comes out here, another day and competes to try and keep his spot."
That doesn't mean that he won't do his job, should a change be made.
"I'll just come out here and play," Allen said. "I play 110 percent, no matter what, no matter who's in the game, no matter who's pushing the rock, or who's doing what. I'm always going to play my game, come out here and fight.
"If coach sees something different, then that's what I've got to deal with."
Defensive tackle Aaron Tipoti and outside linebacker Chris McCain each wore yellow jerseys on Wednesday.
Senior inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks practiced in full, with only a small cast around his left thumb.