Cal won on Saturday against Fresno State, but I got over that before the game ended. Excuse me for not getting delirious.
Watching the second half of the game I couldn't help but continually revert back to how poor Maynard was playing. With a 19-point lead, I was surprisingly agitated watching the game in the second half, watching Maynard make poor pass after poor pass. It occurred to me that Maynard was poor at both reading defenses and delivering the ball accurately — two really important skills for a QB — and that he should be eating the Bulldogs alive with their soft secondary coverage and their minimal pass rush.
So I wanted to see if my initial reaction to the game was an emotionally-charged aberration by going over the offensive passing plays once more. To my chagrin, it wasn't.
It seemed necessary to watch it again both to make sure I wasn't missing something everyone else was seeing, and also to provide some documentation for others who claim to believe Maynard both played well and is a lock to get much, much better.
So, in an effort be as fair as possible, I watched the game the morning after (instead of sleeping, my first preference usually) and jotted down the outcomes of passing plays and offered some quick analysis on how Maynard performed. (And, as I suspected, some of his big gains were actually bad throws, and some of his decent ones were incomplete. That's football.)
This type of analysis will always be incomplete because I can't see what ZM is seeing down the field; but it's a start when attempting to confront a largely optimistic uniformity on CGB regarding ZM's performance and his upside.
For the most part, this is a quest to answer who ZM is right now. I would argue that the best assessments we can make on the future is by judging where a player is at right now. We need to start by going off what we see. And even if we discount for rustiness and a lack of familiarity with Tedford's offense, I don't think it is unfair to lean one way or the other in regards to his "ceiling." I acknowledge that each week we will learn more about ZM. How much/little he improves his throwing each week will help inform us of what his ceiling is. But we need to know who he is right now, use what we know about what he has been in his collegiate career, in order to assess who he potentially can be.
My concern going forward is that his greatest weakness is the most important skill set to have and the hardest to teach and correct: accuracy — a QBs ability to deliver the ball where it needs to be. Touch on the football — throwing the ball with the proper trajectory and speed for optimal efficiency — is a subset of accuracy, and I saw that he struggled mightily with his accuracy when he attempted to finesse the ball to receivers. Also troubling is he struggled with his accuracy on very short routes on multiple occasions. You can chalk this up to being away from live action for almost two years — and you might be right — but accuracy and touch (and pocket awareness) were also his rap at Buffalo. It's been well documented that he has never demonstrated the ability to be a consistent passer. What makes one think that is all of a sudden going to change, particularly after such a poor performance throwing the football on Saturday? It is not fair to think that a QB is going to all of a sudden change form being a wildly inaccurate passer — a label I would use to describe Maynard at this point — to a good one. Some of his poor short passes were caught, others weren't. He had the most success with hitch/stop routes and WR screens. And though QBs can become vastly improved reading defenses and going through progressions — all parts of becoming an excellent decision maker, a skill that cannot be understated — with time and proper tutelage, I think it is irrational to just automatically assume that they will, especially when it contradicts analytical observation. It seems to me you can find many examples of QBs who never improved in this area. A lot of these guys I'm sure you have watched first hand. Some of them wore the blue and gold. Also, some QBs simply can't make quality throws without fixating on their primary receiver. With the exception of a handful of plays, ZM locked onto his receivers. As Cal's competition stiffens, ZM will start to pay for doing that.
Here is a play-by-play analysis of Cal's passing plays.
1st Drive (15:00, 1st Q)
1. (play canceled due to illegal formation) Incomplete: dropped screen, but a perfect throw.
2. INT (1st and 15): could very well have been miscommunication. MJ stopped short for a dig/hitch (where the receiver just stops and "sits"), while Maynard may have been looking for him to do an in route (where the receiver cuts sharply back towards the QB at either a 90 or 45 degree angle). Maynard had very poor footwork, never setting his feet and throwing off his back foot.
Drive Summary (0-1, 0 yds, 1 INT): rough start, but perhaps because of route miscommunication. Maynard on the pick after the game:
Well, I rushed the pass a little bit. I just felt as if it was going to break earlier for me, but it didn't. I threw it up field and it got picked.
Not sure what "it" is (the ball or the receiver?). Sounded like he meant the ball. Was he trying to throw a curveball?
2nd Drive (13:11, 1st Q)
3. Incomplete (2nd and 3): Very bad throw on an easy pass pattern, a 3-yd quick slant to KA. Thrown well behind him. Not a catchable pass.
4. Complete (3rd and 3): GREAT THROW. Soft touch on a deep corner post route to KA for 24 yards. KA was well guarded too.
5. Incomplete (2nd and 10): WR screen intended for KA, thrown wide left by about 4 feet. Rarely do you see a screen pass to a stationary receiver thrown so terribly at any level.
6. Complete (3rd and 10): GOOD THROW. 10-yd out route to MJ on the left side for 11-yd gain. Throw was slightly off the mark, but it was towards the sideline where only MJ could catch it, and it was very catchable. Thrown on a line. Good footwork, stepped into his throw.
7. Complete (1st and 10): GOOD THROW. Rollout to his strong side (left) and good footwork in delivering a seed to Miller (slightly behind him) on a crossing route for 8 yards.
Drive Summary (3-5, 43 yds) A 67 yard drive ending with a TD run by Isi Sofele. Maynard made three good/excellent throws, two of them on crucial 3rd downs, yet his two incompletions were short passes that were awful and nowhere close. This becomes a theme for Maynard in this game.
3rd Drive (7:07, 1st Q)
8. Incomplete (1st and 10): Strong throw rolling out to his left for a deep out/comeback, but receiver was well guarded, and a catchable throw would have been intercepted or batted away. Not Maynard's fault.
9. Complete (2nd and 10): A 20-yd pickup that was all MJ, no ZM. A quick, 3-yd out from the slot, Maynard threw it well behind MJ, twisting him around. If he hadn't caught it, it wouldn't be his fault. That MJ turned it into a 20 yard gain after twisting himself around to catch it and then eluding two would-be tacklers is impressive. But ZM's inaccuracy -- both short and long -- becomes a theme, especially in the 2nd half.
Drive Summary (1-2, 20 yds): One first down, two passes. The pass that went for 20 yards to MJ was actually a horrid throw despite it being a very easy, short pass, while the incompletion was not necessarily a bad throw.
4th Drive (5:40, 1st Q)
10. Complete (3rd and 10): GREAT THROW. Almost under-thrown enough to be batted away, but overall it was well placed with nice touch, 31-yd completion to KA on a deep skinny post route, where he had beaten double coverage. Perhaps more impressive: Maynard set himself, planted his feet, and delivered close to a strike as the pocket was collapsing. He got rid of it just in time, as he was hit the moment he let it go. Another 3rd-and-long conversion.
11. Completion (1st and 10): GREAT THROW. Timing route (a QS to KA out of the slot) delivered on the money, in stride, and in time, just as KA created the separation he needed. KA streaks for a 19 yard gain — 15 coming after the catch.
12. TD Completion (1st and 10): A side-arm throw while rolling to his left, Maynard hits a wide-open MJ down the middle of the field on a deep post for a 42-yd TD. The ball was thrown very poorly (under thrown and behind; it forced MJ to slow up, giving the defender a chance to tackle him once it was caught), and for some reason MJ was facing one-on-one coverage with no safety over the top. Pac-12 teams are not that dumb, one would think. It didn't appear FSU respected Maynard's throwing ability early on, or at least thought Tedford was going to be conservative early with the play calling. Play looks good on paper, and the outcome was good, but not really an impressive play on ZM's part.
Drive Summary (3-3, 90 yards, 1 TD): ZM's two impressive throws set up the TD scoring play, which was an unimpressive throw and almost cost Cal an easy touchdown. One timely 3rd down conversion. The talent of Cal's WR duo was really on display during this drive.
5th Drive (14:13, 2nd Q)
13. Incomplete (2nd and 2): Bad throw, bad read/decision, bad footwork. ZM misses MJ on a skinny post over the middle fo the field where he had no chance of catching anything. Unclear what other options ZM had, but it was clear he was fixated on MJ, and he did not step up in the pocket to make the throw. Backfoot throws over the middle into double coverage often spells P-I-C-K S-I-X. Fortunately it was overthrown by 5 feet. Ideally ZM would under-throw those types of passes so that balls don't get batted in the air or picked.
Drive Summary (0-1, 0 yds): A 3-and-out series, featuring one pass by ZM that shouldn't have been thrown and was way off the mark (which worked out for Cal).
6th Drive (10:28, 2nd Q)
14. Incomplete (1st and 15): Intended WR screen, ZM hits offensive lineman in the head. A pretty unacceptable pass (he is oddly having trouble with the short ones at this point), but film shows FSU had that screen sniffed out and MJ would have been dropped the moment he caught it for no gain (at best).
15. Completion (2nd and 15): Risky throw, and a bit behind (again). A 5-yd out to Miller out of the slot is thrown to the wrong shoulder where it was almost picked. Was thrown and caught at Miller's right hip as he was moving towards the right sideline (should have been the left hip). A split second later and it would have been a pick six. Gamble by FSU defender turns 5 yard gain into a 24 yard pass play.
16. Incomplete (1st and 10): Dropped ball by KA, wide open on a deep post corner. Throw was short and behind (becoming redundant), forcing KA to turn his hips around and completely face the QB, but a very catchable ball that was an easy play for KA; he just muffed it.
17. Sack (3rd and 12): What can you say? FSU blitzed 6 defenders, Cal had 5 blockers in a 5 WR 0 HB formation. However, replay shows Maynard had a hot route open -- a QS by MJ on the right side -- but Maynard's head was fixated on the left side, which seemed to be long developing routes. One would think Maynard will see this in film review and realize he always needs to be aware of that option, especially on 3rd down (which this play was). The QS would have been a huge gain being that there was nobody around MJ.
Drive Summary (1-3, 24 yds): Had trouble with his reads this drive, but did find KA for what should have been a huge gain. Drive could have ended in points. He wasn't particularly accurate on any of his three passes.
7th Drive (6:49, 2nd Q)
18. FSU touchdown: muffed snap.
8th Drive (4:10, 2nd Q)
19. Complete (2nd and 5): Good read, PERFECT THROW. A short hitch/stop route at the sideline to Calvin for about 5 yards. Perfect 3-step drop by Maynard, good footwork, stepped into it and the timing was perfect, ball delivered on the money at the numbers.
20. Incomplete (1st and 10): Poorly thrown 20-yard post corner route towards the right sideline intended for KA into double coverage. Bad read -- KA was double covered and too close to the sideline. Ball shouldn't have been thrown at all, but if it was, it should have been thrown much earlier. ZM was off balance, throwing with his momentum going to the sideline rather than towards the receiver (he was concerned about the blitz even though he had a lot of pocket to step up in), and the ball was about 7 yards overthrown. Replay showed Calvin was wide open underneath KA's route. No excuses. Maynard was looking in that direction, but it shows he was again fixated on KA and couldn't get away from it despite the double coverage.
(Next play was an easy throw but well designed screen to KA, thrown on the money right, caught in stride, for a huge gain, but it was brought back due to a penalty)
21. Complete (2nd and 25): PERFECT EVERYTHING. Out of the shotgun, Maynard has a perfect drop back, sets his feet, steps into the throw, and throws a strike to MJ on a post route for a 21 yard gain over the middle. Timing was perfect; it was thrown soon enough before the DB stepped up and closed in. (Again, though, ZM fixated on MJ from the get-go, and ZM will be put to the test when he teams take away his first and second read. He's had trouble up to this point in making plays when that first read is taken away.) When will FSU start trying to take away MJ and KA by not giving them so much cushion?
22. Incomplete (1st and 10): A 10 yard sideline comeback intended for MJ. Well thrown given the circumstances: low, and away from the defender. Well covered by FSU. Unclear as to whether ZM could have gone elsewhere with the ball. He did have time in the pocket.
(Another Cal 1st down called back. Maynard escapes broken pocket to find WR tip-toeing the sideline for a 1st down. Hopefully this becomes Maynard's forte).
23. Complete (2nd and 30): Quick screen to KA on crossing towards the middle from right side for 13 yards. Simple, short WR screen pass, delivered on time and on the numbers. ZM seems to like scooting backwards and jump-throwing those WR screen passes towards the middle.
24. Incomplete (3rd and 17): Intended for Calvin on a 10 yard sideline comeback. ZM throws off his back foot (feeling the pressure) and again throws far wide of intended receiver. Didn't give Calvin a shot to make a play.
25. Incomplete (4th and 17): Sums up Maynard's greatest strength and weakness. Broken play, ZM rolls left, then back all the way to the right sideline, throws 50 yards deep into the endzone only to overshoot both a wide-open MJ and KA. ZM's talent afforded himself all day to find somebody, but when he did, his greatest weakness, in my view -- his accuracy -- cost Cal six points before the half. Looks like it was intended for KA streaking towards the right corner of the endzone, though it seemed to come closer to an open MJ streaking up the right sideline.
Drive Summary (3-7, 39 yards): Accuracy and reads are the main issue again in this drive to end the 1st half. Penalties hurt the drive indeed, but ZM missed badly on three passes, one of them in the end zone. His scrambling ability was on display, though, but penalties negated one of his flushes out of the pocket in which he converted for a 1st down.
9th Drive (12: 37, 3rd Q)
25. QB Option (3rd and 6): Maynard scampers down the wide-open right sideline for 48 yards. (That's why he's starting right?) Another crucial 3rd down conversion by ZM, and this time he did it all by himself (sort of).
* (penalty play, but worth including) : Worst pass of the game. Maynard does everything right until the ball leaves his left hand. Great play action and footwork, but he fails to deliver the ball anywhere close to where it needs be. KA beats his man on a post route from the left slot position, and ZM under-throws it -- and throws it well behind him. Interference was caused by the bad throw, but play should have been an easy six points. ZM tried to finesse the ball and it was one of his worst -- and most costly -- throws of the game. ZM will have to deliver the ball to open guys to beat good teams. Guys won't be as open as often as they were against FSU.
26. TD Completion (3rd and 8): Simple 10-yd out route to MJ at the right sideline, breaks a tackle and gets into the endzone for a 23 yard TD. ZM dropped back, took his time in a well protected pocket, and delivered well to MJ coming back towards the LOS. After that it was all MJ.
10th Drive (9:12, 3rd Q)
27. Complete (2nd and 15): completed QS over the middle to KA for 9 yards. Comcast was feeding us token Mike Pawlawski highlight reels instead of the live play, so I can't say much about the throw. I do know Maynard delivered a completion with a DL running right at him. He got rid of it just in time, and was awarded a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer.
28. Scramble (1st and 10): ZM doesn't see anybody, scrambles to the left for 3 yards.
29. Incomplete (3rd and 4): Didn't find anyone (who knows if there was someone open), forced to scramble out of the pocket and did the only positive thing he could do as he was running backwards and towards the sideline: throw it away.
Drive Summary (1-2, 9 yards): After 1st down and penalty, drive stalled. ZM showed some pocket presence (getting rid of it under pressure; throwing it away).
11th Drive (1:53, 3rd Q)
20. Incomplete (2nd and 10): Jittery foot work in a collapsing pocket, then a jump throw 25 yards down the middle of the field, and miraculously on the money in between tight coverage. In and out of the hands of the receiver. More than anything it was good coverage, tough to catch, and a good throw. Not sure whether in the film room Tedford will congratulate him on making such an accurate throw in between tight coverage, or scold him for jump-throwing a deep pass over the middle in the middle of a lot of defenders.
30. Incomplete (3rd and 10): Hit as he threw a sideline out. Shit happens.
Drive Summary (0-2): Rough series. Time for some more WR screens.
12th Drive (15:00 4th Q)
31. Incomplete (1st and 10): Easy six, but an overthrown ball to a streaking CDJ out of the backfield. Nobody was around him. Maynard had time, pump-faked, and flat out missed CDJ on an easy throw. Ugh. Accuracy being the central issue ... again. He needs to know that if there is ever a time to under-throw a receiver slightly in order to guarantee a reception, that was it.
32. Complete (2nd and 10): Easy screen pass to KA for a loss of 2 after running into his own man.
33. Sacked (3rd and 12): Held the ball too long; by the time he made up his mind to run, it was too late. It looked like he was going through his progressions, and though it could have been the case that nobody was open, it also could have been the case that he went through his progressions too late and missed somebody. Where are you Madden Cam?
Drive Summary (1-2, -2 yards): ZM continues to struggle in the second half, where it appears FSU is starting to give Cal WRs less cushion, taking away ZM's first/second choices. How ZM deals with this in future games is key.
13th Drive (10:27 4th Q)
34. Incomplete (2nd and 9): Overthrows MJ on a post route by about 8 feet. ZM looked good dropping back out of the shotgun, looked to the right first to freeze the defender, then set his feet, then stepped into his throw. It all looked good until it left his hand. He just sailed the throw. Jones was open and had ample space between himself and the defender. This needs to be a cinch of a completion down the road in games.
34. Complete (3rd and 9): Nice 12 yard out route to KA delivered on the money, in stride. Good drop back and footwork.
35. Incomplete (1st and 10): Poor read, throwing the ball way too high for a double covered receiver (Miller) streaking across the field toward the left end zone pylon. Didn't step into the throw despite dropping back well. Ball shouldn't have been thrown anyways. A good throw might have been picked.
36. Incomplete (2nd and 10): A hitch route delivered on time, on the money to the left sideline. Just dropped by MJ; was right in his hands.
37. Complete (3rd and 10): Screen to KA for 7 yards. ZM used his jump-backwards throw on the WR screen cutting across the field.
Drive Summary (2-5, 19 yds): Unable to sustain a drive again with some poor reads and some profoundly inaccurate passing. A solid 3rd down conversion to KA for 12, but a throw all QBs not named Brock Mansion make.
14th Drive (3:29, 4th Q)
38. Incomplete (3rd and 7): Quick 5-yd out thrown way wide right to an open MJ. Not even close ... again ... ugh.
FINAL STATS for ZM: (16-35, 266 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT)
Quick summary from my analyses:
- 12 of his 19 incomplete passes were uncatchable. A few of them were much worse than uncatchable. This does not include throw aways, or plays in which he was hit as he threw. You could add one more uncatchable to the number 12 if you count the pass intended for KA, which should have gone for six, that was cancelled due to interference.
Though not a particularly strong TV crew, Barry Tompkins said in so many words that Maynard struggled, saying after the game "I think Cal is going to live and die on their defense this year" even though Cal had put up 36 points. It was evident to local TV — I repeat, a local broadcast team — that a 36 point performance was underwhelming and could not fully obscure Maynard's struggles.
The poor completion percentage stood out less than actually observing ZM miss so badly on so many throws, some of them short and easy ones. More discouraging to us Cal fans — and more damning to the idea that Maynard played well Saturday — is that Tedford protected him with quite a few WR screens, slants and hitch routes.
It was clear that ZM played much better in the first half. Why this is I don't know. You'd think, if he was fighting off the cobwebs, he'd improve as the game wore on. FSU did seem to tighten up coverage mid-way in the 3rd quarter, taking away passing lanes/options that were there in the 1st half; but also penalties killed some of Cal's drives in the second half.
It's fine to believe ZM will improve his understanding of Tedford's scheme, and thus will become better at deciding when/where to deliver the ball. But based on his performance and the types of struggles he had, I think at minimum we can acknowledge that Maynard struggled mightily on Saturday and proceed cautiously when singing the "he's really inconsistent now but he'll turn into a quality QB" slogan.
Can we acknowledge that we are intrigued by ZM's added dimension at the QB position while still acknowledging that — objectively — he threw the ball very poorly on Saturday? Whether you think that is an aberration or should not factor into what we expect in the future is up for debate (I guess), but I wanted to emphasize that, based on his performance Saturday and what we know about him already, there is very little reason to think that Cal will beat good teams unless Maynard improves — drastically. (Then comes the awful and uncomfortable question of whether we have good reasons to believe he will fix his most glaring flaws.)
It seems far more objective to assess future outcomes based on what we already have observed than it is to just assume that he will get much better, particularly when no more than a small portion of his struggles were, or have been, mental. It had to do with his physical ability to deliver the ball accurately enough to receivers. Once Maynard demonstrates an ability to throw the ball in the vicinity of receivers, can check down to his 2nd/3rd/4th receiver consistently, and improve his footwork (which will improve his accuracy) I will begin to feel good about mentioning Cal in the top-tier of the conference, and ZM as a legit QB.