JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — All week, Georgia coaches shrouded in secrecy what they were planning at quarterback. It was apparent to his teammates early in the week that Faton Bauta would be starting the first game of his college career, but nothing was announced, players were told to keep quiet.
The point was to surprise Florida, which presumably had planned all week for a pure pocket quarterback, Greyson Lambert. Instead it would get Bauta and his dual-threat abilities.
Maybe the Gators were fooled, even though the news broke Thursday night. What didn’t happen, strangely, was a change in the Georgia playbook. And the result was another anemic offensive performance.
Bauta threw four interceptions – the last of which was off the hands of his teammate – and his final stat line was quite pedestrian: 15-for-33 for 154 yards. Georgia’s offense again failed to score a touchdown, and the Bulldogs have now gone two straight games without one.
“Not good,” Bauta said when asked to evaluate his performance.
But Bauta did have some flashes, showing more poise and patience in the pocket, going through progressions and finding open receivers. The surprise, however, was he only rushed the ball three times. He gained four yards.
“We had a good gameplan,” Bauta said. “We were preparing with the same gameplan all week, and we just didn’t execute like we should’ve. That was the problem. We just didn’t execute.”
Georgia’s offense looked awfully similar to the first seven games. There were a few more roll-outs with Bauta in there, but there was hardly any effort to use Bauta as a runner. The first-zone read play didn’t come until well into the second quarter, and resulted in a 2-yard loss.
“The big thing with Faton is (he’s a) mobile guy, can make some plays with his legs, and things like that, and we were looking for a spark,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said.
Considering that, Schottenheimer was asked, did he wish they had put Bauta in more running decisions.
“We called a couple of them. Florida took them away pretty well,” Schottenheimer said. “They won the line of scrimmage today. You’ve gotta give them credit. They won the line of scrimmage. They knocked us back. When the score got to where it was we had to (pass).”
Richt also said there were “a lot” of plays that were option reads by the quarterback that could have been runs if the defense followed the tailback, but Florida’s defense didn’t bite.
Senior receiver Malcolm Mitchell scoffed at the idea that the playbook and system would be overhauled for the game.
“We have an offense, you know,” Mitchell said. “To expect something completely different with one week, two weeks of preparation that’s kind of silly to think that would take place.”
Bauta’s first interception – a ball underthrown for Isaiah McKenzie in the first quarter – didn’t prove costly. But the next two did. The second, which came when the ball was knocked away as Bauta was throwing it, was returned near the end zone, leading to a touchdown. The third, on a ball tipped and intercepted in the end zone, cost the Bulldogs a chance at getting within two scores. The fourth, with the game well in hand, was off the hands of tailback Brendan Douglas.
Lambert, who started the first seven games, didn’t play a down. But Brice Ramsey, the No. 3 quarterback, did throw a pass, on a fake punt attempt. It was incomplete.
It’s unclear now what the Bulldogs will do next week against Kentucky. There doesn’t appear to be much confidence in Ramsey, who fell to third on the depth chart this week. The job could go back to Lambert, who, for all his inconsistencies, only has two interceptions all year. Or the Bulldogs could stick with Bauta, if for no other reason than there isn’t a clear better choice.
“We’ll talk about it,” Schottenheimer said. “We’ll look at the film and just kinda make that decision as we go through the week.”