PULLMAN — There are varying opinions of California quarterback Zach Maynard. As in: your opinion may vary depending upon which of his games you watch.
Last week against UCLA? Not bad. Maynard completed 25 of 30 passes for 295 yards, four touchdowns and an interception in a 43-17 Cal victory.
The week prior, against Arizona State? Not good. Maynard completed just nine of 28 passes in a 27-17 loss.
Consider that so far this season, Maynard has completed 70 percent or more of his passes in three games, and has completed fewer than 57 percent in Cal’s other three games.
So, WSU (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12) wants to take its chances with Maynard tonight at Martin Stadium, focusing on taking away the Golden Bears’ running game in order to put the game in Maynard’s inconsistent hands.
“He’s been kind of up and down,” WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. “But when they get the running game going, his dimension is kind of out of it. My big point is we’ve got to control the run game and try to get him involved.”
There is the matter of those running backs, though. Cal (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12) uses three of them — C.J. Anderson, Brendan Bigelow and Isi Sofele, who ran all over WSU last season — and each have shown the ability to break big runs this season.
“Their running backs, as a group, (are) probably the best that we’ll see all year,” Breske said.
Anderson leads the team with 386 yards, Sofele is right behind at 354, and Bigelow has racked up 218 yards on just 15 carries, including an 81-yard touchdown run at Ohio State earlier this season.
“He probably doesn’t get as many plays as Sofele and (Anderson),” WSU linebackers coach Jeff Choate said. “But he’s certainly capable of taking it the distance and they all kind of bring a different style and a different skill set.”
Add in a group of receivers led by junior Keenan Allen, and Choate thinks Cal’s skill position players are better than any WSU opponent with the exception of Oregon.
“Oregon State had really good players,” Choate said, “but they didn’t have the three backs that these guys have.”
WSU might find encouragement, then, in its defensive performance last week against OSU. The Cougars allowed just 4.5 yards per play and limited OSU to six points in the first half, a product of what players said was increased preparation on the practice field and in the film room.
“We like the way that we played as a defense,” linebacker Darryl Monroe said. “It wasn’t good enough because we didn’t get the ‘W,’ but I feel like we will maintain that and not just maintain it, but build on it from here and just take a more steady approach to our preparation.”
The importance of taking away the run this week is also found in Cal’s lack of pass protection. No team in the country has allowed more sacks than the Bears (28.0), so if WSU can force Cal to pass the ball, the Cougars (ranked 13th in the nation in sacks per game) could have some opportunities to knock Maynard around.
“We’ve got to win first down, get them in second and longs, change the dynamic for the quarterback,” Breske said. “And that’s where we can open our playbook on defense, is changing first-and-10.”