ATHENS – One could theorize, as they sit on the couch in their Bulldog boxer shorts this week, that everything is still on the table for Georgia this week. And somewhere, the clouds will part and Annie will sing as . . .
• Georgia beats Florida, Kentucky and Auburn and the Dogs win the SEC East.
• The Dogs channel that spiritual high from an unlikely late-season run, charge into the Georgia Dome like Namath, Buster Douglas and the U.S. Hockey team at Lake Placid rolled into one, and upset Alabama or LSU in the conference championship.
• Watch as the angels stick out their legs to trip enough other top 10 programs down the stretch, opening the backdoor to the playoffs.
Or we can just assume what seems obvious now: That Georgia will wind up in a second-tier bowl with fans wondering what went wrong, screaming about coaching and recruiting, and then assume/hope/drop to their knees and pray that a true freshman quarterback (Jacob Eason) swoops in next season and accomplishes something true freshmen quarterback rarely accomplish: which is win big.
The Dogs have been underwhelming this season on defense and special teams. The loss of running back Nick Chubb meant the loss of a great player who could make up for the team’s other significant flaws. But Georgia’s biggest issue going back to last spring has been the absence of a competent starting quarterback, a passer who could make plays to win games in big games.
For that, there is no excuse – not at a major college program with the resources Georgia has, not with a coach like Mark Richt whose career specialty has been offense and quarterback development.
There have been recruiting mistakes. There have been coaching mistakes. There have been mistakes in terms of how Richt and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer approached this whole quarterback competition after realizing they might have an issue with an unimpressive depth chart of Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta.
Richt isn’t going to make such declarations now, if ever. But for a coach who has largely enjoyed starting quarterback stability and success at Georgia — Matthew Stafford, David Greene, D.J. Shockley and Aaron Murray among those coming off the assembly line — this must be a bit of a shock.
I asked Richt Tuesday if he second-guesses himself on anything that led to this year’s situation. But it was the second question he had taken on the quarterback topic, and apparently that was one too many. (Maybe two.)
“I’ll just say this: We are this deep into the season, and we’re playing Florida, and we’re in a very meaningful game,” he said. “To me, there’s still a lot to be written this season. So I’m not ready to say what kind of year it was for quarterbacks yet or not.”
Maybe. But it’s no coincidence that Georgia’s offense has struggled against the only three good defenses it has faced this season: Alabama, Vanderbilt and Missouri.
It’s easy to dump on Lambert. But he can’t change who he is. It’s not like he’s a problem player who isn’t open to coaching. He transferred from Virginia because he wasn’t good enough. The problems go much deeper than him.
• Richt (recruiting): With Georgia’s resources, it should always have quarterback depth. The program shouldn’t have to rely on “bridge” quarterbacks, and that has been the case for two years. The Dogs needed starters to get them from Murray to Eason. They managed to get by with Hutson Mason last season but were limited with what they could do offensively. There have been recruiting mistakes with Christian LeMay, Jacob Park and, presumably, Ramsey. Georgia waited too long and whiffed on Deshaun Watson, who’s now leading Clemson. One has to wonder why Richt even recruited Bauta, knowing he wasn’t a golden-arm, pro-style offense quarterback, or maybe a major college quarterback at all. So this situation falls solely at the head coach’s feet.
• Richt/Schottenheimer (development): So, message board/social media whiners: Do you miss Mike Bobo now? The most successful/underappreciated/inexplicably criticized offensive coordinator in Georgia history did a great job developing quarterbacks and calling plays before getting a head coaching offer at Colorado State. His replacement, Schottenheimer, has failed to this point. Richt called Schottenheimer “a great coach.” I never heard that adjective when he was in the NFL. The scouting report was closer to: good guy, works well with players, unimaginative and predictable. Fact: None of Georgia’s quarterbacks have gotten better and play calling has been predictable.
• Richt reiterated Tuesday that the decision to go with Lambert as the starter wasn’t finalized until just before the season and that the decision was close. “It wasn’t like one guy just stole the show and that’s it. They all had some really bright moments and they all had some moments that weren’t that bright,” he said. “It was a fairly inconsistent camp. Was there ever a guy who was on top and stayed on top the whole way through? There really was not.” So how is it that in the first three games against Louisiana-Monroe, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Southern, Ramsey didn’t get more snaps and Bauta didn’t get any? Sharing plays in the first four weeks, before the Alabama game, might have been a truer test for all three.
Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. And that’s the problem.