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California Golden Bears quarterback Zach Maynard, #15, prepares to throw against the University of Southern California in the second half of their game on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011, at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif. USC defeated Cal 30-9. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff)

Halfway through a pivotal but hardly defining season, Cal is sending its fans around the globe tumbling back into achingly familiar territory.

Yearning, once again, for a quarterback they can love and trust.

Wondering, for the fifth consecutive season, whether coach Jeff Tedford can identify and develop a quarterback capable of returning his offense to the highlight shows and his team back into the national discussion.

The maddening play of junior transfer Zach Maynard, the first-year Cal starter who only weeks ago looked so promising, contributing heavily to a 30-9 Thursday night beatdown of the Golden Bears by a USC squad that, quite frankly, is unsteady on its own legs.

For the second week in a row, the Bears had the national TV platform (ESPN), coveted not only for the revenue it generates but also for the broad exposure that can raise the profile of a program, benefiting recruiting.

For the second week in a row, the Bears were routed.

Coming off a 28-point loss at Oregon last week, Cal (3-3, 0-3 in the Pac-12) returned to its temporary home of AT&T Park, was greeted by an anxious crowd of 44,043 and performed with little rhythm or assurance, as if the stage was too big.

Maynard gave four turnovers (three interceptions, one lost fumble) to a Trojans defense averaging one per game. He had a particularly tough first half, throwing two picks, the second snagged at the goal line to abort a rally the Bears were trying to assemble to get on the scoreboard before halftime.

They instead went into the locker room down 20-0. It was too much to overcome.

Maynard's third interception, with about six minutes remaining in the game, put the Trojans in breathing distance of the end zone and sent most of the crowd streaming toward the exits.

"We just turned the ball over too much," Tedford said, alluding to five turnovers.

Upon entering Pac-12 play, Maynard appears to have regressed. His first three games, against inferior competition, offered the promise of a leader who could beat opponents with his legs as well as his arm. He was nimble and flashy, the kind of QB who could give defensive coordinators headaches and reduce frustrated defensive linemen to tears.

Maynard now seems tentative and jittery. He has fallen into the habit of missing his targets, too often throwing over and behind receivers -- even when they are open.

"For any young quarterback -- which I would put Zach in that category -- with the speed of the game we play in, is going to need to adjust," Tedford said.

"It's a lot different," Maynard conceded of higher competition within the Pac-12. "It's conference games, so it's more intense."

Maynard looks like a quarterback who sat out a season, which he did, and is learning on the fly. His sins Thursday were all too reminiscent of those committed by Bears quarterbacks of the recent past, notably Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore.

Inconsistency at the key position on offense has become a pattern at Cal, which hired Tedford in 2002 largely because of his reputation as an offensive mind with a history of taking raw high school passers and polishing them at the college level.

Given the way Maynard has struggled the past two weeks, all of that is open to question.

Maynard said he'll watch film and make corrections, believing he will make the proper adjustments. He was better in the second half, but the Bears were in comeback mode.

"He will get used to this," Tedford said.

"We will improve on this," he added.

They'll have to do it together. The great quarterback search has been Tedford's peskiest challenge over the last four-plus seasons. Failing to find someone to seize the position, making it his own, goes far to explain Cal's 17-22 conference record dating back to 2007.

Open competition at quarterback during spring practice led Tedford to Maynard, who transferred from Buffalo -- after a coaching change -- largely to join his half-brother, sophomore wide receiver Keenan Allen, in Berkeley.

Maynard beat out senior Brock Mansion, who started much of last season after replacing Riley, and also sophomore Allan Bridgford.

Yet Maynard's first-half struggles were so painful that it was reasonable to wonder if he might be replaced after halftime. Bridgford is No. 2 on the depth chart.

Maynard is the quarterback, for now, just as Tedford is the coach, for now -- even if some Old Blues are restless. Jeff isn't going anywhere, nor should he.

This is his transition season. The construction taking place in Berkeley, the new athletic complex, including a remodeled Memorial Stadium, was generated by the momentum of his first five seasons.

It's his baby.

He gets to watch it grow. He gets to watch Maynard grow, too. And sometimes it's painful.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.