ATHENS — Georgia’s starting quarterback competition has a winner, and it’s an unexpected one: Greyson Lambert, the transfer from Virginia.
Lambert will start in Saturday’s season opener against Louisiana-Monroe, coach Mark Richt announced after Monday’s practice.
Brice Ramsey, who had been the presumed favorite since he finished last year as the No. 2 quarterback, will share second-team snaps with Faton Bauta this week in practice.
“There may be other or others who get in the game. But right now the thing that I know that he’ll start the game,” Richt said of Lambert. “Very, very close competition. Still being contested in my mind. But at this point we felt it would be wise to name a starter and get him ready to play in this ballgame. … We’ll start playing ball that way and see how it goes.”
The quarterbacks were notified prior to Monday’s practice, and the team was told after practice, just before Richt announced it to the media. Richt said he and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer were “pretty sure” on Saturday, then gave it a couple days before finalizing it.
The fact Richt named a starter at all was a surprise. The competition had seemed to be moving towards the first game being a split of reps, with the Louisiana-Monroe game serving as a de facto tryout.
“If I was a betting man I would probably say I didn’t think there was gonna be one named up until the game,” senior offensive tackle John Theus. “That’s how things normally are around here. So coach Richt announced it today. We didn’t know it was coming.”
It’s quite a turn of fortune for Lambert, a 6-foot-5 junior who transferred from Virginia this summer after dropping to No. 2 on the Cavaliers’ depth chart. He started nine games for Virginia last season as a sophomore, passing for 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
“Anything that happened at Virginia had nothing to do with the decision for him to start,” Richt said. “It might have had something to do with the decision to have him come on our campus because that’s what we had on him to go by. We didn’t invite him blindly. We watched his film and felt like he could function and do the things that we’re going to ask the quarterback to do here at Georgia. But we didn’t say: ‘He’s gonna come in and be our starter’ by any means. We told him he would compete for that job and legitimately have a shot to compete for that job.”
The competition isn’t over yet: Richt said that the coaches are “very interested” in another quarterback getting first-half snaps on Saturday. He didn’t specify which one, but Ramsey has consistently shared reps in practice with Lambert.
“I think they all can get us in the right plays. They can all get us in the right protections. I think they can all function extremely well and help us win,” Richt said. “That’s what made it extremely tough.”
Lambert played at Wayne County High School in Jesup, though he grew up an Alabama fan. (He was born in Mobile, Ala.) Lambert was recruited by Georgia and then-offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, but when Ramsey (who was a year behind him) committed, both Lambert and Georgia moved on from each other.
As a redshirt freshman at Virginia, Lambert appeared in seven games, completing 33-of-75 passes for 340 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. Last year he made his starting debut in the opener against then-No. 7 UCLA. He completed 16-of-23 passes for 112 yards in that game. Eventually Lambert would start nine games, completing 59 percent of his passes for 1,632 yards. He missed three games with an ankle injury.
But this spring, after being listed second on the depth chart, Lambert chose to become the seventh scholarship quarterback since 2011 to leave Virginia.
Another of those ex-Virginia quarterbacks, Phillip Sims, on Monday was named the starter for the Arizona Cardinals’ preseason game this weekend. (Cardinals starter Carson Palmer is sitting the game out.)
Theus agreed that it was nice to have a starter picked, at least for this week.
“Who knows what will happen in the future. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. But to know who’s back there, and to be able to get reps, and to be able to gel with whoever’s back there, it’s a cool thing,” Theus said “And if it wasn’t the case, honestly this whole fall camp we haven’t missed a beat whoever’s back there. Each guy has shown their strengths and played well. So it’s not really a big deal if somebody else gets put back there.”
Ramsey was long considered the favorite after finishing last year as the No. 2 quarterback behind Hutson Mason. The 6-foot-2 Ramsey is regarded as having the strongest arm the program has seen since Matt Stafford, and he got game experience last season, finishing the Belk Bowl after Mason suffered a head injury.
But there were also concerns about Ramsey’s decision-making with his throws. During the spring he couldn’t get separation from Bauta, who is more mobile but has a weaker arm. Then when Lambert became available, Richt and Schottenheimer jumped at the chance to bring him in to compete.
Lambert, even while still taking classes at Virginia, studied Georgia’s playbook, preparing for his next team.
“I am a pro-style quarterback. I love the play-action pass,” Lambert said in June during an interview in Charlottesville. “I love to be able to survey the defense and try to figure out what they’re doing and get the ball to the playmakers. Because ultimately that’s our job as a quarterback, is to facilitate the football, get it there accurately, on time, and make the right decisions.”
Lambert arrived at Georgia on July 13. His first practice with the Bulldogs wasn’t until Aug. 4, but in less than a month he was able to beat out Ramsey and Bauta.
“I can’t sit here and say Greyson just pulled away from the pack. They were all doing well, in our opinion,” Richt said. “But he got the nod.”