This time a year ago, those who watched Virginia football expected Greyson Lambert to be the quarterback of the present and future, and to finally stabilize their chaotic offense. Since then, everything that’s happened with Lambert has surprised them.
It surprised them when Lambert didn’t succeed last year. It surprised them when he transferred this summer, and even more so when he landed at Georgia. Then on Monday night came the topper.
“Obviously to go from being a backup at a school that hasn’t made a bowl in four years to (starting at) a school that’s a perennial SEC contender is striking,” said Matt Ellis, a 2013 Virginia graduate who writes for the fan site StreakingThe Lawn.com.
The hopeful theory for Georgia is this: The quarterback and offensive situation at Virginia was so chaotic, and talent around him so inferior to what Lambert will have at Georgia, that it automatically puts him in a better spot to succeed.
“I think you can definitely make a case for that,” Ellis said. “Virginia struggled with protecting the quarterback in past years. The offensive line has been a bit of an issue. And Greyson, while he has all the measurable that you want in the position – he’s 6-5, he’s 220, he has a big arm, he looks the part – he’s not an overly mobile quarterback. So when the line would break down around him he wasn’t able to improvise the way another quarterback could.
“And also, Virginia doesn’t have a running back like Nick Chubb, or Todd Gurley, someone you could hand the ball to 20 times a game and get meaningful yards.”
Michael Brochstein, who runs the popular UGA fan blog “Get the Picture,” also owns a Virginia degree. He treats this news with some trepidation, wary of what he saw in Lambert’s ability to see the field, though in what Brochstein acknowledged was “a dysfunctional offense.”
“Is he in a better situation in Athens? No doubt, in just about any conceivable way. But if Richt and Schottenheimer have managed to elevate his game in the short time they’ve had to work with him, I’ll be really impressed,” Brochstein said. “In the meantime, based on what I saw last year, I’m crossing my fingers.”
Then there’s Norm Wood, who covers Virginia for the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., and is also a Georgia graduate. Wood’s scouting report on Lambert: A big arm, but accuracy issue, and not mobile at all in the pocket.
“The guy’s a freaking statue,” Wood said. “He doesn’t move.”
But with better talent around him at Georgia, and being one year older, could he succeed? Yes, especially at the skill positions, and if he has good protection in the pocket.
“He didn’t have an awul lot to throw to last year, that’s for sure,” Wood said.
Jerry Ratcliffe, who covers the team for the Charlottesville Daily Progress, painted it as a confluence of factors: Virginia didn’t have a lot of talent, but Lambert also struggled with his decision-making and accuracy, especially with short passes.
“The running game, which the entire offense is built around, never really got off the ground because the O-line couldn’t open holes. The team lacked a consistently true deep threat, which it should have this season,” Ratcliffe said. “So, while Lambert was not surrounded by the kind of talent that he will likely have at Georgia, he still underachieved at times in the grand scheme of things.”
The short version of Lambert’s time at Virginia is that he started nine games, threw more interceptions than touchdowns, then lost his job in the spring and left. But it’s more complex than that.
Lambert won the Virginia starting job during spring practice of 2014, and entering the season Cavalier fans were hopeful they finally had their quarterback, after five other quarterbacks had transferred since the 2011 season.
But Lambert threw two pick-sixes in the first half of the season opener against UCLA, and Virginia fell down 21-0. Backup Matt Johns came in and did better, sparking an unexpected controversy. But Lambert started nine of the season’s 12 games, only missing three after hurting his ankle.
Virginia only gave up 16 sacks last year, one less than Georgia’s stout offensive line. But that doesn’t mean the protection was always good, according to Ellis. The problem is that Lambert didn’t adjust well to it.
“How much of that was because he had trouble diagnosing and reading defenses, and it was his first year as a starter?” Ellis said. “And how much came down to often playing from behind in situations where you have to throw the ball. Or not being able to establish a good running game, which means having to throw a lot in third-and-seven and third-and-eight.”
In any case, Lambert is now Georgia’s starting quarterback – at least for the opener. The news is being greeted around Virginia with mixed emotions: People liked Lambert, who was a model citizen on and off the field. But they will be watching to see what Lambert’s performance at Georgia says about their team, and coaching staff, at Virginia.
“If he’s going to go out and win 10 games and lead Georgia to an SEC East title or something like that,” Ellis said, “They’d want to see Matt Johns and UVa. at least make a bowl to justify running off a quarterback who was apparently that good.”