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California quarterback Zach Maynard scrambles against Fresno State in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in San Francisco, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Zach Maynard's heart was racing, and it showed. Immediately. And not in a good way.

Cal's latest quarterback hope took the field for the first time as a Bear on Saturday, and things quickly went a little haywire.

His first play was nullified by an illegal-formation penalty.

And on his actual first play, Maynard threw a pass directly to a Fresno State defensive back for an interception deep in Cal territory, which led to a sudden 7-0 Cal deficit.

Uh oh: That was more Kevin Riley than Aaron Rodgers, and every Cal fan had to be grimacing at the thought.

Maynard wasn't too thrilled about it, either, of course.

But he didn't fall into a hole. He didn't start bouncing passes or brain-locking under center. He calmed down.

The transfer from Buffalo went back out there, led long touchdown drives on Cal's next three possessions, showed plenty of fast footwork, and keyed the Bears' eventual 36-21 blowout victory at Candlestick Park.

"I was very nervous -- I haven't played in like a year and a half, almost," Maynard said.

"Once I got in the game and threw that first interception, it all went away. I had to focus a lot more.

"I was like, here we go, it's real life now. I've got to keep playing. I mean, it's going to happen. Everybody makes mistakes."

Maynard told coach Jeff Tedford that he knows he can definitely do better -- he was 16 for 35 for 266 yards and two touchdowns; Tedford appreciated the comment and at his news conference noted that Maynard missed several wide-open receivers running deep.


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And it should be noted that Fresno State's defense made some egregious mistakes of its own and was clearly overmatched by Cal's batch of big, talented receivers.

But most of all, the skinny left-hander showed that he's a natural playmaker, which is something Cal hasn't had at that position since Rodgers left.

Maynard almost certainly won't be as good as Rodgers, but he will do plenty of interesting and positive things, just as he did Saturday.

"The quarterback did OK," Tedford said. "I just talked to him -- he said, 'I wish I could've played better.' Which he will. He will.

"That was great for him to get his feet wet again. First live thing that he's done. Didn't have any delay of games, he handled the clock well, made pretty good decisions.

"Except for the first ball. I don't know what happened with the first ball, but after that ... "

It's no surprise that Maynard is in sync with Cal's most explosive player, receiver Keenan Allen, who is, after all, Maynard's half-brother ... and caught eight passes for 112 yards Saturday.

But it was a bit of a revelation to see Maynard slip away from Fresno's blitz and loft a pass over the middle to Marvin Jones, who hauled it in, then glided the rest of the way for a 42-yard TD.

Maynard never looked frazzled. He looked fast. He rushed for 53 yards -- bolting past Bulldogs defenders for crucial gains when Cal was backed up deep.

"You could see that brings a little added dimension to the offense when he can move around," Tedford said. "He ran the ball with a couple designed runs today, got us out of some bad field position."

Maynard probably won't ever be the most accurate passer in college football, but his scrambling ability forces the defense to keep an eye on him, and his arm can take advantage of the deep openings that creates.

Yes, this is a different kind of QB for Cal, and that's not a bad thing, especially after the 5-7 stumble last season.

Maynard, for his part, rated his performance as a four-and-a-half or five out of 10.

"First-game jitters -- we got them all out, and we've got to be ready for Colorado next week," Maynard said.

He said that with a shrug -- Maynard is a bit of a droll, understated guy, at least in front of the media. Again, a different kind of Cal QB.

The best thing about him for Cal is that he's already a playmaker, and you can imagine him growing and growing into the job as the season goes on.

He won, but he can be better. And it's obvious: He will only get better.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5442.