The Georgia Bulldogs wrapped up their season opener nine minutes ahead of time due to lightning delays, and their retooled offense still put up 51 points.
There’s little to gauge from the lopsided 51-14 rout of Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, but for Georgia, a balanced team with national title aspirations, the quarterback situation took center stage. Graduate transfer Greyson Lambert — last seen as the starting quarterback at Virginia — debuted as the Bulldogs’ new starter behind center, a common theme this offseason for top teams like Oregon, Florida State and Ole Miss.
Lambert was the surprise pick for Georgia’s starting quarterback.
His top competitor, Brice Ramsey, who completed two long passes for 51 yards and a score on Saturday, was the (slightly) higher-rated recruit and had spent two more years in Georgia’s program sitting behind Aaron Murray and Hutson Mason. Lambert’s first practice in Athens wasn’t until Aug.4. However, Lambert had the edge in experience after orchestrating Virginia’s offense for most of the 2014 season, and while Georgia coach Mark Richt said the transfer’s previous work did not factor into the race, it certainly didn’t hurt his chances.
"Anything that happened at Virginia had nothing to do with the decision for him to start," Richt told reporters when he made the decision. "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."
Richt announced that Lambert will remain the starter as his team travels to Nashville for their conference opener against Vanderbilt next week.
This is the best situation Lambert has ever found himself in.
While Virginia has recruited quite a few top-end players in Mike London’s tenure, Lambert’s supporting cast was mediocre at best in his lone season as the starter. The Cavaliers finished 96th in rushing efficiency and the offensive line was inconsistent. That will not — or, at least, should not — be an issue in Athens. The ninth-ranked Bulldogs boast an excellent offensive line and arguably the most talented stable of running backs in the country, led by Heisman candidate Nick Chubb.
(Chubb kicked off his Heisman resume with a 120-yard, two-touchdown effort in limited action.)
And while Georgia’s receiving corps is unproven, it’s a definitive upgrade.
Leading receivers Michael Bennett and Chris Conley are gone, but there are seven targets that entered college with four- or five-star recruiting rankings. Jeb Blazevich is a productive tight end, true freshman Terry Godwin, one of the top athletes in the 2015 class, comes with high expectations and speedster Malcolm Mitchell can make plays like this:
Georgia was going to be the overwhelming favorite entering Saturday regardless of the quarterback, but Lambert was effective in his first litmus test.
For a player that tossed more interceptions than touchdowns in 2014, completing 66 percent of his passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns was a model of efficiency. There were miscues, but that’s expected for a player who has spent just 32 days within a particular system.
In the grand scheme of things, however, Lambert’s passing performance against Louisiana Monroe is a blip on the radar.
As Hutson Mason, a game-managing senior whose primary function was to transfer the ball from center to Chubb or Todd Gurley last season, underscored, the Bulldogs can beat most teams without a dominant player at quarterback. There’s enough offensive talent to function as a run-first (and -second) system requiring the person behind center to make smart reads and occasionally keep the defense honest. Mason filled that role fairly well, tossing 21 touchdowns and four interceptions. There’s a good chance Lambert or Ramsey could follow in those footsteps.
Lambert passed his first audition. The question moving forward: How much more will Georgia need this season in order to recapture the SEC East division title after a two-year drought?