Other than a disturbing amount of mistakes, Cal's 2011 season opener was a successful first step in the process of erasing the scars of coach Jeff Tedford's first losing season.
Quarterback Zach Maynard demonstrated a lot of promise in his first start for the Bears, and Cal's defense overwhelmed Fresno State's inexperienced offense in a 36-21 victory Saturday in front of 31,563 at Candlestick Park.
Maynard threw for 266 yards, including two touchdowns to Marvin Jones, and rushed for 53 yards in his first action for the Bears after transferring from Buffalo. The defense held the Bulldogs, in their first game with new starting quarterback Derek Carr, to 210 yards of total offense.
Despite committing 11 penalties for 86 yards and turning it over twice -- both leading to a Fresno State touchdown -- it was an overall success in a neutral-site game that was dominated by the Bulldogs' fans.
"Getting the win off the bat is real big," Cal left tackle Matt Summers-Gavin said. "The hunger was straight from the spring. Everyone was tuned in. From then on, it's been the hardest working I've ever seen in my life. We just have to keep doing it."
The Bears lost the final three games of the 2010 season, including the finale on the game's final play, to finish 5-7 and miss the postseason. It was the first time in Tedford's first nine years in Berkeley that Cal failed to finish over .500.
The Bears entered the 2011 opener with a lot of unknowns -- a new quarterback, new running back Isi Sofele and questions of how they would respond to last season's disappointment.
And the proceedings got off to a rocky start. On the first play from scrimmage, Cal was flagged for an illegal formation. On the next play, Maynard threw a pass right into the hands of Fresno State cornerback L.J. Jones. The Bulldogs scored three plays later for a 7-0 lead.
But Maynard settled down, leading the Bears on a 67-yard, 12-play drive on their next possession. Sofele scored on a 1-yard run.
Cal scored two more unanswered touchdowns to take a 19-7 lead.
"It's a great step because we have a new bond on this team," Cal cornerback Steve Williams said. "We're more accountable for each other. We rely on each other and know that we have each other's back."
Inside linebacker and Fresno native Mychal Kendricks added: "It was good to get that taste out of your mouth, especially ending on a loss and not going to a bowl game."
Maynard appeared to get more comfortable as the game progressed. After his first pass was intercepted, he completed 7 of his next 10 passes, including three third-down conversions.
He also displayed the escape dimension that Cal hasn't received from its quarterback in recent years, rolling left to create some time and space and finding Jones down the middle of the field for a 42-yard scoring strike.
"He made some big throws and some big runs," Tedford said of Maynard. "After the first pass, he just shook it off. Early in the game, he was playing a little fast, but as the game progressed he calmed down."
Maynard said he would rate his performance a "4½ to 5 out of 10."
"It's something I'm conscious of as a quarterback," he said. "You always feel like you can do better."
The margin of victory could have been substantially more had the Bears not been so mistake-prone.
In addition to Maynard's interception, Sofele lost a fumble in the end zone on a broken play when center Dominic Galas' shotgun snap sailed past Maynard. Sofele picked up the ball and tried to run out of the end zone. Instead, he fumbled after getting crunched by Bulldogs cornerback Isaiah Green. Safety Cristin Wilson recovered in the end zone for a touchdown to cut the Bears' lead to 19-14 with 4:16 left in the half.
"Obviously there was a lot of rust -- pregame jitters or whatever," Tedford said. "There is a lot of room for improvement, but all in all we are 1-0."