Mike Pawlawski, who quarterbacked one of Cal’s greatest modern teams, said the Golden Bears’ prospects this season start with the performance offensive line, not Zach Maynard.
“For me as a quarterback, first and foremost is the offensive line. Always,” said Pawlawski, Cal’s starter in 1990 and ’91, who is returning to the radio booth as the team’s analyst this season.
“I want to see how the big boys up front are going to play. Those guys can do a good job — they don’t have to be great.” Pawlawski said. “If they can open holes for running game, that takes pressure off Zach and makes it easier for him.”
The Bears, who open their season Saturday at renovated Memorial Stadium against Nevada, feature three first-time starters in their offensive line and just one player — senior right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin — who is starting in the same position as a year ago.
Pawlawski, who led the Bears to a 10-2 record and No. 8 final AP ranking in 1991, believes Maynard will be more comfortable and more efficient as a second-year starter. He also said the guys up front will dictate much of that.
“Those guys matter first,” he said. “You put Joe Montana, Tom Brady or John Elway behind a poor offensive line and we wouldn’t be talking about their names in that echelon of quarterbacks. Name a great quarterback who played for years behind a bad offensive line — you can’t.”
Pawlawski said he’s eager to see how Maynard in his second season can maximize his natural gifts.
“He’s an elusive runner, a guy who can escape pressure. What a bonus to have a guy like that, who can make plays when he has to. That gives defensive coordinators fits,” Pawlawski said. “Last year he was just learning the game, coming into (coach) Jeff Tedford’s system.”
Pawlawski conceded that Tedford’s playbook is more detailed than what he had to learn under the late Bruce Snyder. That meant a tougher learning curve for Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo.
“Hopefully we watched the settling process last season,” Pawlawski said. “Toward the end of last season, he was much more accurate, wasn’t giving the the ball away.”
The year of experience should provide Maynard what Pawlawski refers to as “The Matrix moment.”
“It’s like in the movie when everything slows down,” Pawlawski said. “At some point you start realizing the game you see on film is the same exact speed as the game you see on the field.
“You stop mystifying the game. You realize you have a little more time than you’re giving yourself. You’re making your reads a beat quicker, making your decisions quicker. That makes a huge difference for a quarterback.
“That’s what I’m looking for from him this year.”
— Once again, Pawlawski is following in the steps of his quarterback mentor, Troy Taylor. Pawlawski returns to the Cal broadcast team, replacing Taylor as the analyst alongside veteran play-by-play man Joe Starkey.
As a player at Cal, Pawlawski watched Taylor for three seasons before taking the starting reins. “When it comes to understnading the game of football, there aren’t many guys who were better than he was,” Pawlawski said of Taylor, who remains Cal’s career passing yardage leader. “He was an incredibly cerebral quarterback and that helped me a lot.”
Pawlawski called it “a blessing” to work with Starkey, beginning his 38th year as the voice of Cal football. “He and Lee Grosscup were really my mentors in broadcasting,” Pawlawski said. “To me, it’s not college football unless I’m listening to Joe Starkey.”
— Pawlawski said the new Memorial Stadium will be great for recruiting and for fans, calling the $321 million project “an incredible feat by the Cal family.”
He also said the building alone won’t win games.
“The guy I want to recruit,” he said, “is the guy who wants to play in the sandlot and still wants to win, period.”