The hype wasn't hype at all. When the dad said a month that his son, Zach Maynard, would pleasantly surprise the masses he was speaking the truth. When the old assistant high school coach said that people had no idea how good Maynard would be he was talking level-headed. And when the University at Buffalo coaching staff raved during training camp about Maynard's sound grasp of the offense and his fantastic athletic abilities they couldn't have been more honest.
Maynard's poise and mettle were put to the immediate test when the Bulls met up with Big East preseason favorite Pitt on Saturday afternoon at UB Stadium. For the second straight game, UB's defense surrendered a touchdown on the game's opening drive. Compounding their plight, a Mario Henry fumble on the ensuing kickoff led to another Pitt score.
Maynard had yet to step on the field and already the Bulls trailed, 14-0. Nothing like breaking the sophomore quarterback in easy in his first home start, against an opponent ranked 28th in the country.
Maynard conceded that circumstances increased the pressure, a somewhat startling admission because his play never let on. He completed all four of his passes for 51 yards on UB's first possession, the 71-yard touchdown drive culminating with an exquisitely thrown 24-yard touch pass to tight end Jesse Rack. Maynard's final numbers -- 24 of 35 for 400 yards and four touchdowns against one interception -- were remarkable enough to make one think a second straight Mid-American Conference championship might be attainable, even with all-league back James Starks out for the season.
Right now, two games into the season, quarterback might well be the absolute least of UB's worries. The running game was pedestrian yet again, with lead back Brandon Thermilus mustering a mere 54 yards on 14 carries. Granted, Pitt's formidable defense had a lot to do with that, and UB won't see another like it. Still, the Bulls will need to build some run-game momentum, the sooner the better.
On the other side, the defense continues to struggle against the run, allowing Dion Lewis (24 carries, 190 yards) to become the second straight opponent to rush for more than 100. The special teams had a rough day, fumbling away a kickoff, missing an extra point, shanking a punt. Two personal fouls factored into Pitt touchdown drives. The Bulls were altogether too sloppy to take a big swing at an upset and have yet to force a turnover, the trademark of last year's defense.
Despite it all, Maynard and his two senior receivers with NFL potential had UB in position to draw within a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Brett Hamlin had a monster game, falling one reception shy of the school single-game record while catching 12 passes for 149 yards. Naaman Roosevelt continues to dazzle after the catch, turning a wide receiver screen into a 54-yard scoring play and a short slant into a 67-yard touchdown sprint.
"They're two receivers, No. 18 and 88, you'd like to have them both," said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. "They're both playmakers, winners. They got ability."
UB's passing game looks like it will be just fine. Maynard's 400 yards set a school Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) record. His four touchdown throws matched the school FBS mark, equaling a feat last achieved by his predecessor, Drew Willy, in last year's season-opener against UTEP.
Yes, at times Maynard did look like a sophomore. He held the ball too long on a couple plays, taking sacks that could easily have been averted. He forced an option pitch near midfield on a third-down play, the errant exchange resulting in a touchdown return.
And Maynard overthrew Terrell Jackson in the corner of the end zone on a fourth-down play when a connection would have closed the gap to 40-34 with about five minutes remaining. But for a true sophomore two games into his career?
"I like the way he responded," coach Turner Gill said. "He has a great demeanor about himself, has great confidence, has great confidence in this whole offense. I think you see that in his body language. He responds very, very well when things are going well, responds very, very well when things aren't going so well.
"I think he's already experienced those things in just two ballgames. . . . He still has a few things that he needs to continue to get better at. And I know he will."