It's really hard to turn something as awesome as the Memorial Stadium re-opening into a painful memory you want to banish from sight and mind. It's really, really hard to screw up what should have been a perfect day to be a Cal fan. But Jeff Tedford found the most bizarre way to do just that by punishing our starting quarterback in a way where everyone (EVERYONE) in the Blue and Gold paid the price.
Out trotted Allan Bridgford for that opening snap, and suddenly everyone went from irrationally exuberant to "Why is this football being aimed at my head".
The Bears started out in a 14-0 hole in part because of punishment meted out by Tedford to quarterback Zach Maynard for missing a tutoring appointment in June. Allan Bridgford got the start and hit on 1 of 8 passes for 8 yards before giving way to Maynard with 1:34 left in the first quarter.
While Tedford said Maynard had known since June that he would not start this game, his offensive teammates did not. They questioned the wisdom of Bridgford not taking snaps with the first offense at the start of practice this week in order to mimic game conditions. He did have some reps with the starters later in practice, however.
"To an extent, yes I do," said wide receiver Keenan Allen, who had a brilliant 39-yard end-around run for a touchdown in the third quarter. "All camp Zach’s been with the ones (starters). We haven’t taken many reps with Bridg. … It definitely would have helped us if Bridg had taken the reps in practice."
Oh, it only gets worse. Because it has to.
Keenan allen says he knew thursday, when maynard told him. Tedford said the decision was made in june.— Ryan Gorcey (@RGBearTerritory) September 1, 2012
Miscommunication: Tedford said it was known since June that Bridgford was starting opener. WR Chris Harper says he found out yesterday.— John Breech (@johnbreech) September 1, 2012
Cal WR Keenan Allen confirms team found out about Zach Maynard's benching Friday. Keenan said Zach told him Thursday.— John Breech (@johnbreech) September 1, 2012
Let us examine all the ways we can call this story catastrophic.
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It screws Zach Maynard over: I don't feel so much as bad for Maynard because he did seem to do something wrong. The suspension seems to indicate he was clearly on thin ice all summer because of academics. If he failed to meet all his expectations, then a punishment was deserved.
But the way this was conducted makes you feel like it's something you'd expect from Bud Kilmer in Varsity Blues. Either Zach learned three months ago and had to bear the burden from his teammates (which I SERIOUSLY doubt given Allen's postgame comments), or Maynard was taken by surprise like the rest of us, found out a few days ago and was just following along with Tedford in the presser and hoping that this official stance stood as was.
Tedford's decision to bench him for a quarter seems terribly self-serving, and it couldn't have helped out Maynard in trying to settle into the game almost immediately being put into a 14-0 hole. Speaking of which...
It REALLY screws Allan Bridgford over: "Hey Allan, we know it's two days before the opening game of what figures to be a real super-charged environment in front of our new stadium, so we're going to give you the start in two days despite the fact you've been running with the twos all camp (including this week) and have almost zero chance of starting beyond that, and hey we're also going to pull you after awhile but we don't know quite when."
A much less sarcastic version of this conversation transpired earlier this week, and I can only imagine it going as well as what we saw from Bridgford in his limited minutes.
How much of a no-win situation is this for Bridgford? He's been playing with the twos all camp despite Tedford knowing that BRIDGFORD WOULD START THE SEASON OPENER FOR TWO MONTHS. It puts immense pressure on him to score immediately because he knows he's very likely to get pulled unless he succeeds. The only way he stays in the game is if he marches the Bears down the field on a drive or two, and every subsequent drive the pressure just mounts even more.
Bridgford performed poorly, but given those circumstances, how can you imagine him playing well?
It throws the team for a loop. Is it any wonder the Bears looked like a sputtering mess for the rest of the game? Let me outline this from the viewpoint of the players.
The day before your season-opener, you're pumped up and ready to go to debut in Memorial Stadium. All through the week, you have a specific gameplan in mind to attack Nevada. You have Maynard leading the starters through camp and well into Nevada practice.
And then as you get ready for gameday, you learn your starting QB isn't going to be the one leading you and you'll be going with someone else to start things off. How awesome is that.
How can you judge the performance of the team under these circumstances? Now they are under tremendous pressure to perform for 15 minutes against a Wolf Pack team they've struggled with before. The offense has to deal with a quarterback that's only played a minority of the snaps in practice, and with a defense that will happily play hard against the run and dare Cal to beat them with Bridgford's arm. When the offense predictably struggled, the defense had to deal with the tempo-heavy Pistol for ten of the first fifteen minutes, and were wildly inconsistent the rest of the game. Playing catch-up against that scheme is asking for pain.
And now that they know that Tedford and his staff knew that Maynard was getting suspended for three months and decided to dwell on it for whenever, how much faith can they have that the coach will have their backs in future contests?
The process behind the decision punished the rest of the players just as much as it punished Maynard. How could Tedford have missed that?
It makes Tedford look bad in almost every sense: In addition to all the stuff mentioned above, Tedford showcased a lack of hard discipline.
Instead of suspending Maynard a game for "academic issues" to give Bridgford a game to work things out or suspending him sometime in fall camp, Tedford chooses neither, goes the wishy-washy route, and suspends him for a quarter. That way Bridgford and Maynard have to struggle with ridiculous circumstances for starting a college football opener, while the whole team is left playing catch-up all game to give Cal "the best chance to win"
The way this punishment outlined was very vague. Tedford said the punishment was for a quarter, except Maynard was back in for the final series of the first quarter with Nevada up 7-0 and Bridgford ineffective. Tedford said the punishment was known since June, except Maynard was practicing with the ones all the way through the day up to the Nevada game, with Bridgford getting only spot reps with them.
(I sincerely don't hope Tedford thought his decision to hold this news til the last minutes would fire up the troops and light a fire under them. Those are the sort of motivation techniques you'd see employed by Cobra Commander. "I HAVE KILLED YOUR CAPTAIN, NOW FIGHT FOR ME.")
The belief that Tedford could pull off this madness against a well-coached and well-prepared Nevada team, the belief Tedford could sacrifice at least a first quarter of offensive consistency, the belief Cal could keep this QB controversy hidden away from not only the players but the quarterbacks, the belief that Tedford didn't think he wasn't hurting the team by making such a late personnel change, the belief that Tedford could explain away this nonsense afterwards ... all of it speaks of a man who has no pulse for the times, a coach who appears either unbelievably arrogant or totally non-confrontational, and really has no idea how to communicate properly with his Bears.
Saturday should have been a celebration of all that Tedford brought to Cal, and the first step in a new age for the Bears. Instead, all we can dwell on from this weekend is how far he and the Bears have fallen from the moments that we originally celebrated him for. It's decisions like these make it harder to take him seriously as the head coach who can deliver on the results we all desire.
There is only one redemption now for his future here. Put this fiasco behind him now and win, win, win. Otherwise, this will be the moment where we finally saw his time here reaching its twilight.