ATHENS — Vince Dooley can’t immediately recall how many true quarterback competitions he had during his 25-year career as Georgia’s football coach. But, to one degree or another, he said it was all of them.
And he knows one thing for sure about the one of which the Bulldogs are in the midst.
“The first thing that comes to mind is I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision,” he said. “I’ve been there. It’s tough. But I rather suspect you’ll see more than one.”
That may indeed be the case. But as the Georgia Bulldogs lift the curtain on the 2015 season against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, the first quarterback everyone will see, and the one they’ll see the most of, is first-year transfer Greyson Lambert.
Lambert, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior from Jesup by way of the University of Virginia, earned the starting job in preseason camp. He beat out sophomore Brice Ramsey, the supposed incumbent, and Faton Bauta, a hard-working and dedicated junior.
While most of the information and feedback that was coming out of Georgia’s preseason practices for the last month pointed toward an alternation or rotation in this first game, that doesn’t appear to be the case now that Game 1 is upon us. After declaring Lambert the starter after practice this past Monday, Richt emphasized that Lambert would be getting all the snaps with the No. 1 offense in practice the rest of the week and, most likely, during Saturday’s game.
“There’s two reasons we did it,” Richt said of naming Lambert the starter on a Monday. “One, was to get it over with. We knew there’d be a lot of attention on the decision and everybody would have their opinion of it. But we figured sooner or later it would die down and we could just focus on playing football. That was kind of the big thing. Then, if you know who’s going to start, you might as well get him every rep with the ones that you can, just for timing purposes and for continuity.”
That last statement is probably the most important thing to the players that will huddle up around Lambert on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. Teammates have maintained since the competition began in earnest on Aug. 4 that they’ve never had a preference which one of the three quarterbacks was ultimately named starter.
But, they assert, it does help the operational process to know that there is going be one primary voice in the huddle, and all that goes with that.
“I think it’s good, definitely,” junior guard Greg Pyke said. “It’s kind of nice as an offensive line to build the bond with your starting quarterback, especially for (center Brandon) Kublanow, getting the snaps going and all that. You’re rotating guys and guys have different cadences and stuff like that causes problems. It’s definitely nice to know you’ve got one guy and you can get a feel for the offense and the tempo you want to go.”
Quarterback competitions have been going on as long as there has been football. But Georgia has enjoyed relative stability in recent years.
You have to go back to the spring of 2010 for the last true competition. That’s when redshirt freshmen Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger were battling in what was described at the time as a dead heat.
But that contest got postponed after Mettenberger’s spring arrest, which ultimately led to his dismissal. Mettenberger ended up transferring, Murray took over as the starter and he left as the first quarterback in SEC history to throw for 3,000 yards in four straight seasons.
When Murray left, it was pretty much an uncontested baton handoff to fifth-year senior Hutson Mason. While not big-armed and flashy, Mason may have left under-valued for his strong decision-making abilities. He threw for 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Similarly, Joe Cox took over as a senior after the dynamic Matthew Stafford left after his junior season to become the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick. But he had to hold off a sophomore named Logan Gray first, and Murray and Mettenberger as true freshmen.
And even Stafford had to endure a competition. As a true freshman, he was beat out by senior Joe Tereshinski III. But Stafford ultimately surged ahead to start eight games.
The last time Richt had a rotation, per se, was 2003-05, when he sought to always carve out some series for David Greene’s talented backup D.J. Shockley. It paid off handsomely in 2005 when Shockley took over as the starter and led the Bulldogs to the SEC championship.
There was a time when quarterback rotations were almost the norm. Georgia won an SEC championship in 1976 while rotating quarterbacks Ray Goff and Matt Robinson.
“We had a starter, and the starter was Ray,” Dooley said. “But Matt Robinson played a lot and had some great games for us, particularly the Alabama game. He scored a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass for us. So he had some great games for us, too. We needed them both.”
That may or may not be the case for this season. Much of it may depend on how well Lambert performs Saturday.
But it’s doubtful that any referendums could be reached while playing an opponent from the Sunbelt Conference. It’s very likely this will carry on for weeks. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“It doesn’t really matter who we have back there,” Pyke said. “All three of those guys have been doing a great job. Coach Schotty is a great coach. He thinks Greyson should get the start and that’s fine for us. But it’s definitely still a competition.”