ATHENS — Remember that whole thing that went down last year with Georgia and starting Faton Bauta at quarterback against Florida? Yeah, well, nobody really wants to talk about it.
Bauta, the main character in this one-act tragedy, is now at Colorado State. He “respectfully declined” an interview request and “asks for your understanding,” according to a school spokesman.
Former head coach Mark Richt is now at the University of Miami and couldn’t be reached. Same for Brian Schottenheimer, then the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, who’s now quarterbacks coach for the Indianapolis Colts.
Current Georgia players that were around to witness the situation up close and personal last year, sort of gloss over the whole episode and say they’re focused only on this year’s matchup.
You probably need to know nothing more than this: All the principal parties involved — Bauta, Richt and Schottenheimer — are no longer at the University of Georgia. Richt and Schottenheimer were fired and Bauta left at the end of the regular season to transfer to Colorado State.
It can’t all be attributed directly to the decisions that were made prior to and during the Florida game last on Halloween last year, but it played a big part.
Here’s a refresher: On the eve of Georgia’s annual rivalry showdown with the No. 11-ranked Gators in Jacksonville, the Bulldogs’ brain trust made the decision to start Bauta. At that point, Bauta was Georgia’s third-string quarterback and had played very little in his career and none that season.
But the Bulldogs, under the direction of first-year transfer Greyson Lambert, had struggled on offense most of the season and especially in the previous game, a 9-6 win over Missouri. So they schemed to do something radical and go with Bauta.
It didn’t go well. After holding his own in the early portion of that game, Bauta was victimized by a couple of drops and then began to press after the Bulldogs fell behind in the first half. He finished with a shockingly bad stat line: 15-of-34 passing for 154 yards and four interceptions. Georgia lost 27-3.
“You have to learn to take some positives away from it,” a devastated Bauta said after the contest. “If you sit there and think you’re the worst player of all time, that’s not going to help you, that’s not going to take you where you want to go. It’s not good. Honestly, it was a bad start.”
Bauta never played again for the Bulldogs.
The only person who agreed to reminisce in any detail about the whole affair was Jack Daniels. He was Bauta’s head coach at Dwyer High School and remains one of Bauta’s closest confidantes.
“I try to forget things like that,” Daniels said with a nervous chuckle. “I know he threw some picks on some not-too-good throws and he’ll be the first one to tell you that. But I think early in the game there were a couple of passes he hit and I think there might’ve been a dropped touchdown or something. Those things in a game like that are confidence builders and momentum builders. I thought they had some good stuff going early, then they got behind and he forced some balls into coverage and threw a couple of picks. He’s hardest on himself, so he’d be the first to tell you he didn’t play great.”
Daniels remains perplexed like everybody else about the fact that Georgia really didn’t change its offensive look or philosophy with Bauta at the controls. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Bauta was considered more physical than Georgia’s other quarterbacks and a better runner.
Yet the Bulldogs didn’t employ more quarterback run with Bauta that day, even though they possessed a fairly extensive zone-read package. Bauta finished with only 4 yards rushing on three carries.
“I thought Georgia should have done some more things for him, maybe some spread packages with some quarterback power stuff,” said Daniels, who utilized Bauta to great effect that way in high school. “They didn’t change anything. I thought they were going to come out in a lot different look, but they were in the pro style and that probably doesn’t suit Faton as good as the other Georgia quarterbacks.”
Bauta’s teammates who were around for the two weeks leading up to the Florida game said they were informed a “couple days” before the game that Bauta was going to start but were told to keep it quiet.
Which quarterback should start had been heavily debated in the media. It finally leaked first through a report in Gridiron Now and was confirmed by DawgNation the day before the game.
“I remember during the week they said Faton was going to be the starter,” flanker Isaiah McKenzie said. “So during the week he prepared the best way he could and we prepared the best we could as receivers and as an offense. … The week of the game we saw him starting, or going with the ones. So we just said, ‘OK, Faton’s going to get a chance.’ We just made the best of what he could do.”
Said senior lineman Greg Pyke: “I don’t really remember. I was just focused on the game and they just kind of told us he was playing quarterback and we were all behind him. We don’t really have a say in what happens and we don’t really care who plays.”
Throughout the year, Georgia had kept its options open at the position. Greyson Lambert ended up starting 11 of the other 12 games that season, but No. 2 quarterback Brice Ramsey also played in six, including three before the Florida game.
Neither of the other two quarterbacks came in against the Gators, despite Bauta’s obvious struggles.
“I had some conversations with him (about it),” Daniels said. “I said I know you’ve got a great running back there in Nick Chubb and some other guys, but why not spread it out there on the goal line or give him a short-yardage package where he can do some things like (Tim) Tebow used to do? He’s a guy I feel like in a one-on-one situation with a linebacker or anybody he’s going to get you one or two yards. His heart is so big.”
Faton Bauta runs for yardage for Colorado State in a game against Colorado earlier this season. DUSTIN BRADFORD / GETTY IMAGES
Obviously, a lot of folks have had to move on since that debacle, Bauta included. His former position coach Mike Bobo, now head coach at Colorado State, did install some of those special packages for Bauta in his offense. Bauta has played in six games for the 4-4 Rams and has started one, but still hasn’t been able to win the full-time starting job.
Freshman Collin Hill beat out Bauta initially the No. 1 job at Colorado State but has since fallen out with a knee injury. Junior Nick Stevens, last year’s’ starter, has now taken over.
But Bauta enters games in special situations. He has rushed 18 times for 122 yards and has completed 12-of-27 passes (44.4 percent) for 114 yards. He has finally thrown the only touchdown pass of his career, a 5-yarder against UT-San Antonio.
Bauta is on track to graduate soon with a masters degree in adult education.
“I think he’s going to be on to much bigger things,” Daniels said. “He still has dreams of playing in the NFL and I think he’ll give that a shot until it’s exhausted. His brothers are doing very well for themselves in the real estate market and he may join them. But he’d be a really great coach, that’s for sure. I’d take him back in a second.”
Interestingly, Daniels shared that Richt called him at the end of the regular season last year imploring him to help convince Bauta to stay at Georgia. And at that point, it was clear that Richt would no longer be there.
“It’s kind of weird but … Coach Richt really wanted him to stay,” Daniels said. “He called me, it was either the day he was fired or the day after he was fired, and asked me to talk Faton into staying through the bowl game.
“But Faton’s mind was set that he was ready to go. I think he had enough there.”