Greyson Lambert is a strange case. He lost his starting job at Virginia, which would wind up firing its coach. He won the starting job at Georgia and held it for all but one game — a game that led the school to fire its coach. He presided over 10 victories. He threw only two interceptions.
He isn’t the world’s worst quarterback. He’s just the quarterback almost no Georgia fan wants to see start another game. But he might well start against North Carolina on Sept. 3.
To check Lambert’s numbers from last season is to make you wonder if somebody’s calculator miscalculated. He finished fifth among SEC quarterbacks in passer efficiency and completion percentage. He won more games as a first-year Bulldogs starter than David Greene, Matthew Stafford or Aaron Murray. He just didn’t look very good doing it.
With Lambert at quarterback, Georgia beat Missouri 9-6 without benefit of a touchdown, Georgia Southern 23-17 in overtime and Georgia Tech 13-7 on a day the Bulldogs gained 402 yards. The issue wasn’t that Lambert was throwing the ball to the other team, although he had a half-dozen catchable interceptions dropped. It was that his throwing amounted to so little.
Yes, mitigating circumstances abounded. Nick Chubb was lost in the sixth game. Lambert was working under Brian Schottenheimer, who may or may not have known what he was doing. (It’s a source of fascination that, in the same winter month, Georgia and the Falcons hired offensive coordinators — Kyle Shanahan was the choice in Flowery Branch — who had famous coaching fathers, and both teams wound up being unable to generate touchdowns.)
Schottenheimer and Mark Richt liked Lambert enough to make him the starter over Brice Ramsey, once seen as Murray’s heir apparent. By the Missouri game Oct. 17, it was clear they’d lost trust in Lambert — even though he’d set an NCAA record for completion percentage against South Carolina. In the strangest decision of his 15 years, Richt deployed the untested Faton Bauta against Florida and stuck with him even as he threw four interceptions. Georgia lost 27-3. The next week, Lambert was back at quarterback. Bauta transferred to Colorado State.
The unease regarding Lambert that led Richt to misplace his marbles in Jacksonville exists in Athens still. Lambert mightn’t be half-bad, but is he Georgia good? Of last season’s 10 victories, the best was against a 7-6 Penn State team in a who-cares bowl under an interim Georgia coach that saw the Nittany Lions lose their quarterback to injury. In Year 1 under Kirby Smart, can the Bulldogs contend for the SEC title with Lambert? But what if the ballyhooed freshman Jacob Eason isn’t ready?
Greene and Murray started as freshmen, but they were redshirt freshmen. Stafford played as a freshman and finished the year as a starter, but he began the season in a tie for third on the depth chart with Blake Barnes. Joe Tereshinski III was No. 1, Joe Cox No. 2. Both would start games before Richt settled on Stafford, who would be the NFL’s No. 1 pick in 2009, but who threw three egregious interceptions in a loss at Kentucky after being installed as Georgia’s No. 1.
As we know, Smart learned his trade at the right hand of Nick Saban, whose quarterback choices the past two seasons have surprised the Alabama constituency. Fifth-year senior Blake Sims got the nod over transfer Jake Coker in 2014. Last year Coker, himself a senior, beat out Cooper Bateman, Alec Morris and hot-shot freshman Blake Bennett to lead Bama to the national championship.
We note that Saban doesn’t ask his quarterbacks to do as much as Richt. (Alabama has had two Heisman winners under Saban, neither a quarterback.) Could Saban’s longtime lieutenant choose a Game Manager over a hot-shot freshman, especially in a high-stakes opener like Georgia’s?
Smart, for his part, isn’t saying. (Fancy that.) The masses want Eason, but the masses aren’t paid to coach. The guess here is that Georgia’s 2016 season will mirror 2006: Dawg Nation wanted Stafford and finally got him — but it took a while.