In 2007 in Jacksonville, Georgia scored the game’s first touchdown and authored what came to be known as the Gator Stomp. It wasn’t planned that way — Mark Richt had encouraged his offense to celebrate to the extent of drawing a penalty, not the entire traveling squad — but matters escalated, as matters can. Long story short: The Bulldogs won 42-30, marking only their third victory over Florida since 1989.
In 2009 in the same city, Georgia broke out black helmets. From the moment the Bulldogs charged onto the field, the ploy bore the pungent whiff of desperation. Florida, the reigning BCS titlist, was undefeated and ranked No. 1 and had Tim Tebow; Georgia was 4-3 and had Joe Cox. Florida won 41-17. We haven’t seen the black helmets since.
If Georgia does start Faton Bauta at quarterback in Jacksonville on Saturday, it will go down as another in a not-very-lengthy series of gambles/gimmicks Richt has brewed up for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. The Gator Stomp worked. The black helmets flopped. (Then again, the 2007 Bulldogs were a very good team; the 2009 Bulldogs were not.) That’s the nature of gambles/gimmicks. They hit big or fall flat.
Back to that “D”-word: That Georgia is even considering a quarterback change so late in a season tells us that its coaches are at least slightly desperate. Greyson Lambert hasn’t been awful; he just hasn’t been good enough. In its past three games, two of them losses, Georgia has scored three offensive touchdowns. It mustered 10 points against Alabama and had to score the game’s final touchdown to break double figures; it beat Missouri without breaking double figures.
In the final 7 1/2 minutes of a tie game, Georgia twice ran on first, second, and third downs inside the Mizzou 25. The first time it missed a field goal; the second time it made one. That 3-pointer was enough to win 9-6 on a night that saw no touchdowns, but still: The Bulldogs clearly weren’t comfortable with Lambert throwing. (His first pass had been intercepted; defenders laid hands on three subsequent throws.)
If the assumption is, “We can’t beat Florida without a quarterback who can throw the ball,” there’s logic there. But if the conclusion is, “Ergo, Faton Bauta gives us a better chance to beat Florida” … well, that’s a leap of something that mightn’t qualify as faith.
Bauta hasn’t thrown a pass or run the ball this season. His only significant appearances last season were against Troy and Charleston Southern. If Georgia’s coaches saw him a realistic starting option, why take Lambert as a transfer and make him No. 1? If Bauta’s potential was that tantalizing, why wasn’t he — not the apparently forgotten Brice Ramsey — Lambert’s backup?
Bauta was mostly a running quarterback in high school. He was likened to Tebow, which isn’t a bad thing. Bauta played running back some in high school; he even played linebacker. He’s supposed to have a good arm and sound mechanics, but he’s a redshirt junior who was No. 3 on the depth chart deep into his fourth season in Athens. It’s not as if these coaches haven’t seen what he can do. (In practice, anyway.)
If Bauta is used Saturday in Wildcat mode, he would be a quarterback unlike any Richt has had at Georgia. So now we ask: Could he and Brian Schottenheimer install a new game plan in two weeks to maximize the talents of a fourth-year junior who hasn’t played much since high school? Could Georgia, in the course of a fortnight, go from being a pro-style team to being — overstating for effect — Georgia Tech?
We don’t know for sure that Bauta will start. We don’t know if he’ll even play a down. The rumors have been rampant in Athens this week, but rumors in Athens on the Monday after the 2010 Liberty Bowl had Richt being fired. After Wednesday’s practice, the still-employed Richt hinted that a quarterback change might be afoot, but that could have been a bit of gamesmanship intended to make Florida’s coaches lose sleep. Or it could have been the honest truth.
For now, all we can say is this: If Bauta does start, it will be Richt’s boldest move as Georgia’s coach — and his most desperate. But desperation has been known to be the mother of invention, has it not?