In at least one way, Faton Bauta is much like his now-former coach, Mark Richt, who he followed out the Butts-Mehre door this week. Both were popular in the program and praised for their intangibles. But both are also more competitive people than some gave them credit for, which they showed this week:
Richt in getting right back in the game at Miami, and Bauta by transferring rather than finishing out the bowl with his teammates.
Bauta will also long symbolize, through little fault of his own, Richt’s downfall this season. Whether it was Richt or Brian Schottenheimer who ultimately made the call to start Bauta against Florida, it didn’t work out, and Bauta never took another snap at Georgia after that ill-fated game. He will be eligible to play one more year, and right away, though probably not at Miami given the presence of Brad Kaaya.
It was not a surprising decision. When three quarterbacks are given the chance to play in a season, it’s almost certain that one and perhaps two will depart after the season. Bauta actually appeared to be the No. 2 quarterback last week at Georgia Tech, taking all the second-team snaps in warm-ups. But it’s also very likely he saw the inevitable for next year, particularly after getting no more playing time post-Florida.
There was a more subtle sign of where things stood last Sunday night, when players filed out from the meeting at which Richt talked to the team about his firing: Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey walked out together, along with a couple other teammates, none of them Bauta, who quietly exited at another time or door.
Bauta will be wished well and rooted on by many, who still like him a lot for his hard work and positive attitude. But his departure now makes one thing very evident for incoming coach Kirby Smart:
Jacob Eason needs to be kept in the fold. If he’s not the new staff should scramble to bring in at least one more scholarship quarterback for next year.
The good news for Smart and his offensive staff is they should know soon. Eason is an early enrollee, so he will either be in Athens at the start of January or he won’t be, and the new staff can spend the next month looking for options.
There are at least a couple out there now on the graduate transfer free agent market:
Patrick Towles is leaving Kentucky. The only problem with that option is he would be looking for a place he was likely to start, and he knows Lambert and Ramsey have at least as much chance as he does.
Will Gardner is leaving Louisville, and he’s a Georgia boy: He played at Coffee High School. Gardner (6-foot-5 and 225 pounds) started seven games in 2014 and had good numbers (1,669 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions) before tearing his ACL, then didn’t play this year.
There will also be a handful of high school seniors that Smart could target. Perhaps they should whether or not Eason ends up a Bulldog, at least for depth purposes.
So where is Georgia’s quarterback situation in 2016: It’s up in the air, depending on Eason and what kind of offense Smart brings in. One would think pro style, as that’s what Alabama has run, but a more spread style, a la Clemson, could also be a possibility. All we know right now is that Smart inherits two candidates.
Lambert, for all his inconsistency, enters the bowl with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in 11 starts this season. And that was after joining the team less than a month before the start of the preseason, so he shouldn’t have much problem picking up whatever the new playbook ends up being. Of course if it’s a radically different offense that all bets are off.
Ramsey may also get a push to transfer from some close to him – he’s set to graduate and would be able to play right away too – but word is that he likes Athens. He would enter next year as the incumbent punter, at minimum, and you never know what would happen at quarterback with a new coaching staff.
Neither was the choice in that infamous Florida game. Afterwards Richt tried to explain the decision to vault his third-stringer, who had never played a meaningful quarterback snap, in what was arguably Georgia’s biggest game of the year.
“We got to a point where we thought it was time to make a change. And because it was such a close competition throughout camp that Faton oughta get an opportunity,” Richt said then. “He’s a tough kid, a competitor, he’s a guy who has worked his tail off for an opportunity like that. Just because you work hard you deserve to start, that’s not the case. But he had done enough in practice, even handling the disappointment of not being the starter, even handling the disappointment of not being the second-teamer, he just kept battling away, he kept performing. We felt he gave us the best chance this game.”
It turned out not to be the best decision, for Bauta or Richt.
And now both are gone.