JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Faton Bauta is going to play quarterback for the Georgia Bulldogs against Florida. That seems a virtual certainty. How soon and how much remains a matter of great speculation.
We’ll find out for sure as the two teams tee it up for the 94th renewal of the Georgia-Florida rivalry Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (CBS). But just the fact that Bulldogs are considering playing someone who has been their No. 3 quarterback — not only for all seven games this season, but for the entirety of his career — in a crucial game against the No. 11-ranked Gators illustrates how desperate Georgia is to get something going offensively.
Or just desperate, period.
Saturday’s game is an elimination game for the Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2 SEC), who will be out of the SEC East race with a loss. A win puts them in a first-place tie with Florida (6-1, 4-1) and holding the tiebreaker advantage with games remaining against Kentucky and Auburn.
If Georgia’s going to make something happen, might as well be now.
“It’s time,” senior wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. “We’re in the last half of the season. If we’re going to try to make a push for anything, now’s the time to do so.”
Several media outlets citing anonymous sources are reporting that the redshirt junior from West Palm Beach, Fla., is going to get his first career start on Saturday. DawgNation.com has confirmed only that Bauta has gotten extensive work with the No. 1 offense the last two weeks and that there is an offensive plan for him against the Gators.
It couldn’t hurt as Georgia’s offense has evaporated to next to nothing of late. In the last three outings against Alabama, Tennessee and Missouri, the Bulldogs’ offense has averaged just 12 points a game while scoring only three touchdowns. Last time out, Georgia defeated Missouri 9-6 while failing to score a touchdown for the first time since 2010, a span of 48 games.
Junior Greyson Lambert was the starter then, as he has been throughout the season. And as pedestrian as he has been during this recent stretch — 48-of-88 (.545) for 543 yards with two TDs and two interceptions in the last three games — backup Brice Ramsey has been even worse (1-of-6 for 20 yards and 2 INTs).
So with a bye week before the Florida game, Georgia’s coaches decided to open up the quarterback competition again. That went from all three quarterbacks getting repetitions with the No. 1 offense to only Lambert and Bauta getting them.
By the end of this past week, the coaches apparently decided to go with Bauta. That remains unconfirmed, however, as head coach Mark Richt’s last comments on the subject came Wednesday and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has not been available for interviews since Oct. 14.
“All I can tell you is we’ve been repping more than one guy with the 1s, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Richt said after Wednesday’s practice. “I think we evaluate that every week at every position. That’s just how football is. That’s the type of environment that we’re in. Everybody’s job is up for grabs.”
So might be the jobs of Georgia’s coaches, given this latest move. It’s a high-risk situation, no matter how it turns out.
If Bauta, who has never started a game — nor even had a meaningful snap in a meaningful game — fails miserably against the Gators’ stout defense, the coaching staff will be criticized for throwing an inexperienced quarterback into a situation for which he was not prepared. If Bauta comes through and plays well, the coaches could be questioned for not evaluating the competition better earlier in the season.
“So much is at risk here, mostly the rest of the season,” Georgia noseguard Chris Mayes said prophetically this past Tuesday.
The logic, if there is any to going with Bauta, is that the 6-foot-3, 215-pound athlete will bring a threat-to-run element to the quarterback position that the Bulldogs haven’t had this season. At Dwyer High School, Bauta earned the nickname “Tim Tebow Jr.” for his ability to run the football off the zone-read option.
“I think they’ll run the offense that they run,” said Jack Daniels, Bauta’s coach at Dwyer High. “I don’t think they’re going to do anything different. I think he can make throws just as well as Lambert and Ramsey. He’ll be fine running what they have.”
Interestingly, this game had very little to do with Georgia’s offense last year. It was the Bulldogs’ defense that let them down as Florida ran over them to the tune of 418 yards rushing while calling runs on 60 of 66 offensive plays.
“There’s some lessons to be learned for the coaching staff, for sure,” Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said. “But for the players, they lost a lot of guys, we lost a lot of guys. So I don’t think last year’s game will have any bearing for what happened in the 60 minutes down there this Saturday.”
Meanwhile, though the Gators throw the ball more under first-year head coach Jim McElwain, they’re doing so with a mobile quarterback of their own. Treon Harris took over as the starter after Will Grier was suspended for a year by the for taking performance-enhancing supplements. Harris, who started for Florida in their 38-20 win over last year, is reminiscent of Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who accounted for 430 total yards and five touchdowns in beating Georgia earlier this season.
Such has been the unpredictable nature of this crazy series, which almost always is played with some level of league-championship ramifications. In seven seasons from 2006 through 2012, the Georgia-Florida winner reached the SEC Championship game five times (Florida 3, UGA 2). That’s the case again this season.
“We’re definitely ready for this game,” said junior wideout Reggie Davis, one of 16 Florida residents on Georgia’s roster. “Games like this, crazy things happen. It’s just like Michigan-Michigan State, for example, and Florida State and Georgia Tech this past weekend. Games like this, you’ve just got to be on your P’s and Q’s because anything can happen.”
All of which makes Bauta’s prominent presence in the middle of it all so intriguing.
“If there’s anybody who can handle that moment … I think it’s Faton,” Daniels said of his former player. There’s really something special about him that I hope everybody finds out about tomorrow. … He carried our football team on his back. I think he’s got some good players around him there at Georgia and he just needs to do what he can to help them win.”