Quarterback Zach Maynard's play was a silver lining for Cal in the wake of a second consecutive Big Game defeat to Stanford.
With the Bears managing just 81 yards rushing Saturday against the Cardinal, Maynard completed 20 of 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
It didn't provide much consolation for Cal in a 31-28 loss at Stanford Stadium, but Maynard's performance was an extension of the improvement the first-year starter has shown in recent weeks.
"All along we knew he's capable of playing well, and he's showed signs all year long of that," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "But I think it does give him confidence that if he keeps preparing and practicing hard, he could be an effective quarterback in this conference."
Maynard, a junior, struggled considerably with his accuracy and decision-making through the first half of the season.
The Bears consequently leaned heavily on their running game in victories over Washington State and Oregon State leading up to the Big Game. Maynard was a combined 23 for 36 for 246 yards in those games but was not a major factor, nor was he needed to be.
He stepped up and made plays Saturday, starting with Cal's first snap from scrimmage when he lofted a deep pass that Keenan Allen hauled in for a 42-yard gain. It was hardly a flawless night -- Maynard made a bad pitch to tailback Isi Sofele on the next play that went for a turnover, and he was off-target on some throws.
But when Maynard performs as he did Saturday, he gets playmakers such as Allen involved and makes Cal a more balanced offense.
"We had a great week of practice and we were poised coming into the game," Maynard said.
The Bears' defense held Stanford 15 points below its season average but couldn't get a crucial fourth-quarter stop when it needed it.
Cal pulled to within 28-21 early in the fourth on Maynard's touchdown to Spencer Hagan and a two-point conversion, but the Cardinal ate up nearly eight minutes on its next drive and kicked a field goal to go up 10 with 3:07 left.
Stanford fullback/tight end Ryan Hewitt was a thorn in Cal's side, slipping out of the backfield to catch several passes with no defenders in sight.
"We played hard, but we lost our discipline with our eyes sometimes in the backfield," Tedford said. "They snuck some of their tight ends out with play-action and got some guys free."
No. 3 receiver Michael Calvin, another senior, left in the fourth quarter with a right knee injury. He'll undergo an MRI to determine the severity.
Tedford gave his team Sunday off and said practices will be lighter and shorter this week because of the physical nature of Saturday's game. The Bears will work out Monday through Thursday, opting to practice Thursday in Berkeley and fly to Tempe later that day since kickoff Friday isn't until 8:15 p.m. (MT).