Legge: Dawgs Not Ready for the Moment

ATHENS - So usually after losses - almost always after the first loss of the year - folks figure out the worst possible fate for a team.

That’s kind of the process folk go through. And everyone in the SEC except Texas A&M, Florida and LSU has dealt with a crushing or blowout loss - Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia included. 

The issue after a loss isn’t so much what went wrong during the loss, which would take a very long time to talk about after the Tide’s 38-10 all-too-familiar beating of Georgia in Athens. 

The most obvious what went wrong?

Georgia’s quarterbacks combined to fumble three times, throw three picks and go a collective 11 for 31 for 106 yards passing. It was quite a departure from a duo that were both completing 75% of their passes coming into the game and had yet to turn the ball over. 

But Saturday was horrible. Horrible. 

Greyson Lambert deserves credit for his excellence against South Carolina. But that’s the only game where he played really well against a division one foe. His struggles against Vanderbilt could have been dismissed as a one-time problem. But they seemed to be on display once more on Saturday. Another concern is that Lambert is too often fumbling the football. Quarterbacks are going to throw interceptions, but Lambert has fumbled more this season (five times in five games) than any single player fumbled in 14 games last season. He’s only lost one fumble, but a fumble a game from a person who handles the ball so much is a troubling trend. 

Meanwhile, Brice Ramsey did nothing to take away from his detractors with two interceptions on Saturday. Terry Godwin running the incorrect route on the first throw of the game for Ramsey or not - it still goes down as a pick… it was Georgia’s first of the year (but these are the WRs on campus - the QBs are going to have to work with what they have… even if they are very young). The narrative that Ramsey is just a big-armed missile thrower is way overdone, but days like yesterday are why folks form that opinion. He’s got to perform better than he did Saturday. That goes without saying. 

Ramsey seemingly had the chance to take the starting job from Lambert on Saturday, but didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to have a battlefield promotion. Was it an ideal situation? No. Doesn't matter. It didn’t happen. Needless to say no quarterback on the field was dealing with ideal conditions (as Richt has repeatedly pointed out). Mark Richt did say after the game that Georgia would take a look at everything from here on out in terms of the quarterback position (and the rest of the team as well). That’s not something he commonly says after games - even blowout losses. Still, Sunday night he said that Lambert would start the game against Tennessee. How much will Ramsey play? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to play from here on out unless Lambert is on fire. The quick hook Georgia’s coaching staff was looking to avoid this season is no longer a feasible way to look at this situation. If the hook is needed it must be deployed on either signal caller. 

At a minimum one would expect Georgia to play Ramsey more against Tennessee - hook or not. Ramsey’s mistakes were not mistakes of nerves. He stayed in the pocket and delivered the ball down the field. Those are correctible mistakes. Lambert, on the other hand, was fleeing the pocket too often for difficult-to-understand reasons — and that’s a serious problem if you are playing in a pro-style system of quarterback. Trusting the protection of your teammates is critical. In five games this season Lambert is struggling to do that.

With that said, Lambert’s strength may not be getting the ball down the field, but in the two shots Georgia took in the first half with long throws he hit one. That’s not a horrible percentage - particularly considering an accurate ball from Lambert on the first throw would have likely resulted in a touchdown. 

On the long ball Lambert did hit, all you have to do is watch the film to see that Alabama was playing man-to-man defense with a safety in the middle of the field. Eight men were near the line of scrimmage. This is a look that Georgia is going to get a ton this season. That play is there. Defenses, even mighty Alabama, is going to load up to try to stop the run. That leaves one-on-one on the outside often - basically this is a summer-camp throw. That the Bulldogs are not taking advantage of it more often is something they are going to have to adjust to. 

On that throw, Lambert was well protected; stayed in the pocket; and delivered a well-thrown ball off his front foot. The ball was begging to be thrown down the field on first and ten, and Lambert connected with Mitchell for a 36-yard gain. That play turned out to be a little more than 40% of Lambert’s passing production for the entire game. It was the right throw. It was the right execution. It was good quarterbacking. 

But that was about all of the good Saturday in the passing world of the Bulldogs. The game was sloppy, and Lambert struggled. That leads to the natural next question: is it time to give Ramsey, who has been getting about one in every three snaps with the No. 1 unit in practices, more reps with the first team? Has he earned that? We shall see. Next question: It is time to try more ball control with Ramsey, or more downfield throwing with Lambert?

Something has to give. Production needs to improve. Lambert has been the starter through five games - and he’s only had one game with more than 150 passing yards. Some of that is due to scheduling (ULM; Southern). Some of that is due to poor play (Vanderbilt; Alabama). Whatever it is - whoever plays; or if they both play; Georgia needs to start throwing the ball better and with more production from week to week. That’s not picking sides - that’s picking wanting to be good at throwing the ball. Its something that Georgia has been very good at for years under Mike Bobo, and it is not asking too much of either of these two signal callers to be productive at a rate that’s above 150 yards a game.

There is logic in thinking that the staff has seen what Lambert is capable of, and they are willing to make a change. On Sunday night Richt didn’t go that route. There is logic in thinking this team is 4-1 and no further or closer (still have to beat the Gators and Vols) to playing the SEC Championship Game than they were on Friday, and they are not willing to change yet. That’s the path Richt took. 

If they stick with Lambert for the rest of the season - there is no guarantee of that happening - the former Wayne County signal caller has to trust and believe in himself and what he can do. He’s played well at times this season - particularly against soft coverage from South Carolina. 

Trust. Trust. Trust. 

He has to trust his offensive line. There were times on Saturday when there was simply no reason to leave the pocket, and yet Lambert took off. That’s been a real issue this season - not just against the Tide. The question is why. He made one hell of a throw to the Georgia sideline to help with a field goal in the first half. On that play he stepped up into the pocket and then rolled to his left for a difficult and risky (running to your left and throwing against your body as a right-handed QB), but athletic throw. It was an impressive physical throw. In many ways that throw shows that Lambert can, in fact, make plays. It was risky, but he trusted himself and just played. He probably got Georgia three points with that play because an incomplete pass would have resulted in a very, very long field goal. 

But most of the other times Lambert left the pocket he made poor decisions and throws. He scrambled OK, but he's not well equipped to run, run and throw or throw on the run. That’s not his game. He’s a college-level athlete, so there are going to be times when he can do things he’s not great at, but that’s not his game, and yet he’s choosing to do that when he doesn’t have to. His comfort level seems highest with side-to-side, screen or slat balls that are all thrown close to the line of scrimmage. That’s Lambert’s game, and we’ve seen that work against South Carolina. 

If (at some point this season) Georgia goes with Ramsey as the starter there has to be some expectation that he is going to make mistakes - he’s never started a college game. He’s going to challenge defenses with his arm. He’s got superb arm talent and needs to develop being a quarterback - not just a thrower. That takes time and real-game experience. That’s not excuse making - that’s reality. 

Mistakes are what quarterbacks with limited experience and a big arm do. Matthew Stafford was the prime example of that, but D.J. Shockley and Aaron Murray, too. Folks tend to remember the bad when they want to and the good when they want to when remember watching those guys develop. Ramsey isn’t any of those quarterbacks right now, but he certainly has the physical tools to get where he needs to go. He just needs to play and perform. There are times when he’s in the game where you think: “The offense just looks faster, slicker - something.” If the Alabama game is your only from of reference for either of these guys you may as well burn the stadium down and start all over. Both of them are better than what they showed on Saturday - they both have played much, much better than that. 

But Ramsey has not been in there a ton to move the ball. He, in many ways, is still a mystery. That you have the potential to do something doesn’t mean you will. Ramsey has looked, for the most part, pretty good in all of the games he played save the Alabama game (he didn’t attempt a pass against South Carolina, but gets extra credit for the 42-yard punt in that blowout). 

Again, both of these guys are going to make mistakes. They are playing quarterback - they are going to make mistakes. They are going to fail. They are going to fail in very public ways - that’s what happened on Saturday. They both failed in a very public, national TV audience way. I feel like I can’t repeat that enough - and when I do I’m not saying it loud enough. 

These two are going to have Aaron Murray moments of pure stupidity and frustration… and Jacob Eason, who is gifted and talented as well, will as well. But we are still in the honeymoon phase with Eason. A player not on campus can never do any wrong I have learned. 

This, sadly for the viewing public, is a part of the process of developing a quarterback. Maybe Lambert is about to explode and become the best version of himself after a difficult start to the month of October. Maybe Ramsey is ready to take hold and move forward. Either is possible. That Ramsey is younger and has played less, naturally, means he’s got a longer way to go. He’s also got the higher upside of the two - that’s not up for debate inside the program. Lambert, the more experienced of the two, has to calm down and trust himself and his teammates. If he does that there is no reason he can’t be successful and get Georgia to Atlanta. 

We tend to only remember the finished product. No one remembers Matthew Stafford against Mississippi State and Kentucky in 2006. No one is quick to talk about Aaron Murray’s failures against Florida in 2010, South Carolina in 2011 and Florida in 2012. D.J. Shockley’s pick six against Florida in 2002 was the No. 1 reason Georgia fans thought the program didn’t win the national title in 2002. Shockley was persona non grata until 2005 - folks literally had no faith in him unless they were playing with him. And don’t tell me you had faith in Shockley - I remember the climate for ten months after the 2004 Georgia Tech game where Shockley was 5 for 16 for 112 yards and four sacks. No one had faith in him. David Greene was gone, and the program was in real trouble. 

No one had faith in Shockley - and that’s how this thing can mushroom quick. Either way things can mushroom out of control. We do this - it is normal. This is the process. 

The normal talk after a game like this is “Oh, Georgia doesn’t have a quarterback.” Remember the talk after the South Carolina game? “Greyson Lambert is on fire! He’s never going to have another incompletion!”

Its never the extremes. Never. 

Georgia has a quarterback. I feel like they have two. Neither was ready for the moment they were in on Saturday. Will either of them ever be ready for that moment? Time will tell. It took Stafford a long time to get there. It took Murray seemingly longer. 

Again, Georgia has one that has massive upside. They have one who, if given time and space, can be a record-breaking quarterback. So they do have quarterbacks. They just have to perform. 

The coaches can help them with that as well. The goal is to put them into situations where they can achieve what the team needs them to achieve. That didn’t happen Saturday. Putting Ramsey in the game with seconds to go in the half - perhaps that was situational. Alabama had a great, great punt. Had the Dawgs gotten the ball 15 yards further up the field the situation might not have been as taxing for Ramsey and the offense at that time to get some points heading into the locker room. 

I know Richt has said they want to continue to develop Ramsey (and they have kept their word on that, and they should be doing that), but that situation was not ideal. Then the first play called in the second half was a deep pass down the field? I hate second guessing play calling, but why not a quick roll-out toss to the tight end to ease Ramsey into the game when he’s play Alabama?

Anyway. The point is that Ramsey should get more snaps in practice for sure - that’s at a minimum - and they should seriously consider all of their options between those two quarterbacks in terms of who is playing when in Knoxville. The game with the Vols is an absolute must-win game. 

In terms of the discussion: “You could have gotten Ramsey ready for the moment a month ago”. That’s true. He also could have won the job a month ago, and we wouldn’t be talking about that. He’s been the backup. You don’t get a lot of chances. But Lambert - unless he starts and has another South Carolina-like first half - has left the door open for the foreseeable future, so discussion of him not starting is totally natural as well. Lambert not performing in a game is a pattern now. Dismissing his performance in Nashville isn’t so easy any more. 

Folks don’t realize it, but after the Vanderbilt game, the coaching staff shared snaps between the two signal callers the week before the blowout of South Carolina. Lambert was slated to start, but Ramsey was going to go in early. But no one in their right mind would have taken Lambert out that day - he was far too hot in that game. With that said, he needed a performance like that to stay ahead in the quarterback game and seemingly cement his spot. And he sure did have a great game. Kudos to him for that historic night. It was amazing. 

This season is starting to feel much more like 2006 now than 2001. The Bulldogs fumbled around looking for a signal caller three starting quarterbacks into the season. Finally, they settled on Stafford after a debilitating loss to Vanderbilt during homecoming. He hardly played in Georgia’s losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt. I’m not suggesting necessarily that Ramsey=Stafford - that certainly does not seem to be not the case at this time. But I am saying it reminds me of first-year guys with limited experience playing in some very ugly games for the world to see (2006 Tennessee, 2006 Mississippi State, 2006 Vanderbilt and 2006 Kentucky were straight up gross; adventures vs. Colorado and South Carolina were ugly as well). 

Georgia will get this figured out. 

In terms of the loss to Alabama. That’s not all on the quarterbacks, and it is something that happened and should be moved on from now. I had a long-time friend in the industry call me and say: “Well they need to get ready for the rematch in the Dome.”

I said: “Wait, what?”

That’s hard to process after that beating. Nothing seems right in terms of Georgia getting to Atlanta after losing by four touchdowns at home. Sure, Tennessee looks like a dumpster fire, but winning in Knoxville with Lambert making his first real and true road start in this conference isn’t going to be easy. The Vols’ SEC hopes are pretty well done, but they can ruin Georgia’s chances. And Lambert really, really struggled at Vanderbilt - what about 100,000 screaming at you?

Also, expecting one of these two quarterbacks to save Georgia the way Murray did in 2013 is asking a lot, and after this weekend seems impossible to imagine. 

Florida is surging all of the sudden, but that will end at some point. The Gators still have to play at Missouri (who is mediocre) and at LSU before the Cocktail Party. Is this the Florida team that needed a miracle to beat the Vols? Is this the Florida team that needed guts to win in Lexington? Or is it the one that curb stomped the Rebels into next week?

Just because you played great one week (Ole Miss vs. Alabama; Georgia vs. South Carolina), doesn’t mean you have it all figure out. Everyone in the SEC has been blown out or suffered an embarrassing loss this season except the undefeateds. 

This season will be about the entire season - not just one win or one loss. I’ve seen this far too many times to know any different. Alabama is not - not matter what the scoreboard factually read - four touchdowns better than Georgia. 

They are better to be sure - that much is clear - but not four touchdowns better. 

So now Georgia has the task of figuring a few things out. The Bulldogs’ defense, which only gave up 24 points, is playing fine. That side of the ball is not the problem. Special teams decided to have a failure right when it didn’t need one. That seems to be something Georgia does well.

Third down conversions? Georgia is the worst in the SEC and nearly the worst in the country. That needs to get fixed ASAP… like right now. 

Horrible. The Dawgs have not faced a ton of 3rd downs this season - having Nick Chubb and Sony Michel ripping runs helps on that front - but you have to convert third downs. Yesterday that was a total nightmare. Alabama is very good at 3rd down defense, but 3 of 17? 

Bad. Can’t win that way. 

It is important that Brandon Kublanow gets healthy and starts at center. if not, Georgia is going to have a real challenge on its hands at Neyland. That starting five has to play together as a unit. They are good. They might not have had an easy day yesterday, but for the most part they did their job. It didn’t seem like it, but Georgia out-gained Alabama in the run game. 

Finally, Alabama’s commitment to football since Nick Saban arrived in 2007 is significant. Georgia has only in the last year decided to get serious about what football means. For too long the program was coming to a knife fight with a spoon. You could dig some eyeballs out every now and then, but you were at a disadvantage. 

That won’t be the case in the future. Georgia’s full commitment, finally, to football is here. That doesn't mean the Bulldogs will never be blown out again. It doesn’t guarantee a conference or national title. But it does mean a more serious attempt at both.

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