ATHENS — Don’t think Greyson Lambert can throw deep? Ask Isaiah McKenzie.
The Georgia quarterback threw the diminutive wide receiver several feet in the air and several yards down the field after McKenzie returned a punt 53 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Auburn this past weekend. It actually shocked McKenzie, who ended up five yards away and on his backside.
“He said I threw him too far,” Lambert said, drawing a huge laugh from a media throng that encircled him after Wednesday’s practice. “His feet were fluttering back-and-forth a little bit. But it was fun.”
Georgia’s starting quarterback is just tab bit looser and more relaxed these days. Twelve weeks and nearly 11 games into his first season with the Bulldogs, Lambert is finally beginning to settle into his role.
Georgia hasn’t made it easy on him or any of the quarterbacks. Head coach Mark Richt finally admitted this week that Lambert can be considered the Bulldogs’ “primary” quarterback. But he stopped short of saying THE quarterback.
The refrain remains that Brice Ramsey and, to a lesser extent now, Faton Bauta could play at any moment in any game. As ever, Lambert and all the signal-callers are being kept on edge. And that’s the way Georgia likes it.
“All of our QBs have had playing time and had it taken away or whatever have all kept their focus and have been working hard and not been crying or moping around,” Richt said Wednesday. “They know it may come around again. I thought Greyson handled (getting benched) very well.”
As Lambert has said many times before, it’s not like he hasn’t been through this before. His three years at Virginia were also an on-again, off-again affair with playing time. But outside of that failed experiment against Florida on Oct. 31 — when Bauta started and played the whole game — it has been mostly on with Lambert.
Lambert will get his 10th start of the season this Saturday against Georgia Southern. He played every snap against Auburn this past Saturday after Richt had said both Lambert and Ramsey would play. A rotation was planned for those two against Kentucky the previous week as well, but Ramsey ended up playing just two series.
Increasingly, the Bulldogs are sticking with Lambert.
“I keep saying it: I’m here to do whatever I can to help the team win,” said Lambert, who has 1,437 yards passing with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. “… As a competitor, I want to play. But my mindset had to shift to approach it a little bit different (when Bauta started). Then I said, ‘what can I do from this position in order to help the team?'”
Georgia’s commitment to Lambert goes beyond the playing time. Methodically, the Bulldogs have adapted their strategy to fit him. No longer are they trying to play a fast-paced, up-tempo on offense. For the last two games they’ve been huddling up and playing a more deliberate brand of ball.
Not only has that helped the defense, which is spending less time on the field, but it suits Lambert’s style while also improving overall communication.
“The last two games we’ve huddled,” Richt said. “If you’re no-huddling and you’re scoring, it’s good stuff. But if you’re no-huddling and you’re not getting first downs and you’re not putting points on the board, you probably should huddle. Not only to slow that down a little bit but also there were times where we were missing signals or whatever. We just had enough little things here and there where we were like, ‘you know what, we’re going to get in t he huddle, make sure we hear the play, make sure we know the cadence, make sure everybody knows what to do.'”
Lambert prefers it.
“I loved the tempo,” he said. “It was new to me. Huddling was what we did at Virginia actually. So moving back and shifting back to that is a pretty easy transition. … It kind of allows us to communicate a little bit better, whether it’s the play or shifts and motions. There is nobody who can’t not see a signal and blame something on that. We’re all in the huddle and communicating that way. It also allows us to change the cadence a little bit so the defense can’t time it up.”
It’s not like it has kicked Georgia into a new gear offensively. It still has recorded only four offensive touchdowns in the last two games, including just one in this past Saturday’s 20-13 win over Auburn. The Bulldogs have not thrown for more than 97 yards since the Florida game.
The Bulldogs’ hope is that they’ll be able reignite the passing game this Saturday against Georgia Southern. The Eagles are primarily a man team team that plays an “in-your-face” brand of defense.
“Hopefully we can complete some of those passes against that,” Lambert said. “… That’s where the fun stuff happens, if you’re ever able to connect on one of those deep balls. In practice, we tend to hit a little bit more than what you saw last Saturday. Hopefully we’ll be able to see it come this weekend.”
It might help for Lambert to be looking aggressively downfield rather than over his shoulder to see if somebody else is coming in. For the time being at least, he’s able to cut up for a change.
On Wednesday at least, he was able to joke about McKenzie.
“Yes, he’s very small,” he said of the dynamic wide receiver. “It’s kind of funny seeing him out there with his big ol’ helmet on and his little body. But when you see him running you understand why he’s out there. Every time the ball’s in his hands he makes a play.”
Lambert will be trying to do the same.