Had Greyson Lambert stayed at Virginia, he could have been the backup quarterback on a team picked to finish last in the ACC Coastal Division. Having transferred to Georgia, he might be the starting quarterback for a team picked to finish first in the SEC East. As upgrades go, this is akin to being moved from a middle seat in coach to a Lear jet.
But with privilege comes scrutiny. Virginia has become one of the worst programs in a Power Five league. Georgia is expected to play for the championship of the imperial SEC. If Lambert wasn’t good enough to hold his position on a team that didn’t qualify for a bowl, can he lead the Bulldogs to the Georgia Dome on Dec. 5?
So much about Lambert’s status is peculiar. Georgia doesn’t accept many transfers — the defender Jarvis Jones was a shining exception — and has had an almost seamless pattern of quarterback succession. Under Mark Richt, only once before has Georgia entered August not knowing the identity of its starter. That was in 2006, and it offered a tutorial as to how seriously Georgia fans take this stuff.
At many other schools, seeing the third-generation Bulldog Joe Tereshinski III get the nod would have been greeted with warm fuzziness. But some, maybe even most, Georgia backers were aghast: How could the the nation’s No. 1 quarterback signee be relegated to co-No. 3 behind Tereshinski and Joe Cox and alongside Blake Barnes? (Those folks had a point. Matthew Stafford wasn’t co-No. 3 for long.)
Lambert started nine games last season. The Cavaliers won three – against Richmond, Louisville and Miami. He threw more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes (10). Only against Richmond was he not intercepted.
He threw three touchdown passes against Florida State. He had an interception returned for a touchdown against UCLA in a game Virginia lost 28-20. At BYU, he led a 70-yard drive to the field goal that gave the Cavs a 16-13 halftime lead; in the third quarter, he suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for three games. At Virginia Tech, he threw a touchdown pass that gave Virginia the lead with 2:55 remaining; after the Hokies nosed back ahead, he was sacked three times on the final series.
Against North Carolina, the Cavs led 27-21 and were driving inside the final 6 ½ minutes when Lambert’s pass was intercepted by a defensive tackle. Virginia would lose 28-27. Said Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times: “That basically kept Virginia out of a bowl.”
At Georgia Tech, two third-quarter interceptions got Lambert benched in favor of Matt Johns, who was named Virginia’s No. 1 quarterback after spring practice. Given that Lambert had finished the 5-7 regular season as the starter, this was a bit of a surprise.
In an April 23 conference call, offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild pronounced Johns “slightly ahead” of Lambert. In a separate conference call, head coach Mike London said the decision “wasn’t close. If it was close, we’d still be talking about going into August camp with two guys fighting for the same position.”
Said Doughty, who has covered Virginia since 1974: “Most people would have realized that if you make that call that early, it’s an invitation for a quarterback to transfer.”
(FYI, Doughty described the Cavs’ quarterback situation as “dysfunctional” and notes that Lambert became the third consecutive Virginia quarterback to start a season’s final game and then transfer.)
Of Lambert, Doughty said: “He has a big body and strong arm. He has a good head on his shoulders. He didn’t have the greatest stats, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he has success at Georgia. There will be a lot better cast around him.”
Then: “He can improve his decision-making … I wouldn’t say he lacked poise, though. I thought the guy was a pretty good quarterback.”
Pretty good by Virginia’s standards. Georgia’s would seem a bit loftier. But Doughty, who has covered every collegiate game Lambert has played, believes transferring was “a good call on his part. He could be pretty successful for them. I don’t think there’s any one thing holding him back.”