I really didn’t think Georgia’s offensive woes could get much worse.
Then guys dressed in Silver Britches last year trotted onto the field against Missouri and managed to score nine points in 60 minutes of football.
Georgia’s offense is the worst I have seen it in ages, and this scoring struggle is months in the making. Brian Schottenheimer picked this literally and figuratively. This is on him.
With nine months to groom one of three quarterbacks on campus - Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Jacob Park - Schottenheimer has given Georgia this projectile vomiting known as “offense” ten months into his tenure in Athens.
This has been a total failure the entire way.
First, Park transfers from Georgia at the end the spring/start of the summer. Presumably he thought Ramsey would be the starter (most everyone did; NOTE: Coaches were concerned Park would leave after spring practice; that turned out to be true). After all, Park only got a handful of snaps in the spring game, and it looked like the competition would be between Ramsey and Bauta in the fall. So Park cleaned out his locker and left. That Park was behind Bauta was pretty surprising to many insiders, but it didn’t work out for the former four-star.
No problem - still got the person most likely to start, and the guy Mike Bobo (the guy who averaged 38.75 points a conference game last season with Hutson Mason under center) almost certainly would have started in the fall was still on the roster… Ramsey.
But Park leaving meant Georgia had to add another QB if for no other reason than to help with throwing the football in practice. Everett Golson might have seemed like a great candidate to come in and help, but anyone who knew anything about his academic track record at Notre Dame knew he was never going to Georgia. There were far too many hurdles. That was all a smokescreen, it seemed away, for his true intent - going to Florida State.
No one else was out there to be had - just Virginia’s former starter Greyson Lambert, who had lost the job at Virginia and seemed headed to somewhere like Colorado State. But that changed. Word was that as soon as Lambert talked with Schottenheimer about Georgia the former NFL coordinator locked onto Lambert. Multiple folks have said Schottenheimer thought he was talking to someone who had NFL experience. It was a perfect solution to the problem - a not-so-gifted QB who didn’t seem physically able to top Ramsey, but who could come in and play if needed.
That’s not at all what happened. Schottenheimer was “in love” with Lambert’s brain, many have said. Schottenheimer wanted Lambert - perhaps before he ever stepped on campus… which didn’t happen until the middle of July.
Insiders will tell you that Ramsey is the most talented of the trio of scholarship quarterbacks, Bauta is the workhorse. The competition heading into the fall was supposed to be between Ramsey and Lambert.
Everyone knew what to expect from Ramsey should he be the starter: a hot-shot, big-armed quarterback who was going to have to develop on the field as the season went on. He was very good at throwing it to the other team. Getting that out of the Camden product's system was going to be the challange during fall camp. But the thought was that he would have a month to get ready with very winnable SEC games at Vanderbilt and vs. South Carolina to start the season.
Bauta seemed the longest from the starting job. He had been on campus the longest, and Ramsey had passed him as a redshirt freshman.
If Ramsey didn’t, for whatever reason, win the job, the thought was that perhaps Bauta would come in and try to string together short passes to move the ball down the field. The oldest signal caller on campus, Bauta is a vocal leader. He’s been around the block for a long time. Perhaps with a new offensive coordinator in town Bauta might get his shot. He hadn’t been horrible in the spring in scrimmages, but he struggled to move the ball down the field at all. His completion percentage was pretty good, but he was further back in the talent department.
But the first day of fall practice was a indicator of things to come - Greyson Lambert looked horrible. Horrible. It was the worst practice for a scholarship quarterback I had seen in my time at Georgia. A.J. Bryant might have looked worse at quarterback before moving to wide receiver, but it was horrible. Suddenly no one who covered the team (except perhaps those privately pulling for Lambert) was confused about why he had lost the job at Virginia. He lost it because he wasn’t a good quarterback. He got nervous. He had issues with accuracy. He just looked bad.
When Lambert lost the staring job in Charlottesville, Virginia coach Mike London said: “And it wasn’t close.” Georgia fans mocked him saying that Lambert was just surrounded by very bad players at the ACC school (which is, in fact, true); playing in Athens would make things easier.
That (it is clear now more than ever) is obviously not the case.
Still, there was confusion about who the starter would be - on purpose from Richt and Schottenheimer. Statistics for fall scrimmages were not released. It was the first time I can remember the program not releasing statistics from scrimmages. It was a departure from the spring when the program had no problem releasing scrimmage numbers.
Ramsey performed outstanding in the first scrimmage insiders said at the time. Richt backed that up weeks later this his confirmation during a press conference. The Camden product once more had the better scrimmage the second time around, according to folks in attendance - one calling Ramsey the “obvious” choice to start.
The question, and we don’t know the answer to this, was if Richt and company decided to release no information on the quarterbacks because they didn’t want folks to figure out what was going on, or because they couldn’t figure it out themselves. Richt did genuinely seem confused about his signal callers in August. Even after Bauta was no longer taking snaps with the No. 1 unit Richt said he was still in the running to get the job.
The night Lambert was named the starter Richt visited the Athens Touchdown Club. He admitted that every ball in every practice was tracked. That was one of, if not the, formula for picking Lambert over the other two. Over the month, Lambert threw the least amount of bad footballs, which is very hard to comprehend after his near interception-fest on Saturday night against Missouri. That Lambert would “protect” the ball was at least a major factor in him being named the starter - meanwhile he’s fumbled five times in seven contests. Only two players have had more fumbles in the last 14 seasons than Lambert has had in the last seven games. He’s on pace to easily break the single-season fumble record at Georgia should he play 12 games.
Schottenheimer and Richt, however, might not have known totally what they were getting in Lambert until the Vanderbilt game. Ramsey, on the other hand, had played fine in his time under center at Georgia. He had a relatively difficult outing in the 2014 Belk Bowl, but got the job done and took home a win that night. Other than that, his 2014 season was pretty much what you would expect from a backup - 20 of 30 for 282 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. If that were a game line for a starting Georgia quarterback folks would be ecstatic right now.
But that’s now the way it went. Lambert was named the starter the last day of August, and Batua and Ramsey were on hold.
“We are not making any guarantees about playing time,” Richt said that night of the non-starters.
That stood to reason, actually. Lambert had gotten the starting spot, and even though the competition was “very, very close”, you don’t want to send mixed messages to your team. The starter needs to be the starter (until he plays horribly… back to that in a second).
In the first game of the season Lambert was the quarterback for the entire game, but a series; that was also the case against Vanderbilt, which is when he started playing horrible.
When the Bulldogs kicked off in Nashville Lambert played poorly. Ramsey came in for one series and completes the only pass of the first half. I can’t remember the last time a Georgia quarterback didn’t complete a pass in the first half, but it was before Richt was the coach in Athens. Nick Chubb and the Georgia defense saved the day.
Then change was instituted. Lambert went from taking all of the first-string snaps in practice to sharing some of them with Ramsey. Schottenheimer and Richt did the right thing. They didn’t pull the quarterback from starting. They gave him some rope, but they also started preparing Ramsey.
Then, the statistical outliers of all statistical outliers… Greyson Lambert’s record-setting performance against lowly South Carolina. EVERYTHING IS FIXED!!!
Shoot, there was no need to play another quarterback that game. Lambert rolled. But that performance was a lie. Your eyes lied to you that day. Lambert did set a record in throwing so many complete passes, but many of them were close to the line of scrimmage with Carolina’s defensive backs backing off the line so far it made completions all but certain. Pressure? It was non existent in that game.
It has gone downhill from there.
The Alabama game? Lambert implodes; several fumbles; short-arming throws; it was bad. Ramsey comes in to provide a spark - pick six caused by another young player, Terry Godwin, not sitting down on a route that would have been a pretty good pick up for Georgia. Ramsey then threw a ball that was picked he should have thrown to a check down. Both were a disaster that day. Lambert put the ball in harms way (three fumbles and an interception) about half the amount of times he completed a pass that day (ten).
Still, days later before playing Tennessee, Richt said publicly that playing Ramsey “has been no secret” for the Bulldogs. Schottenheimer then tells the press: “there is no reason for Greyson to look over his shoulder because Brice is coming into the game.”
Ramsey hasn’t taken a snap since; Bauta, for the record, hasn’t attempted a pass in his moments of playing time this fall. Those are puzzling things to comprehend to say the least for a quarterback competition that was “very, very close” in August.
Then Saturday night in Athens, Lambert guided Georgia to a nine-point performance that, only with the aid of the defense and Malcolm Mitchell’s outstanding play, resulted in a win. Only 12 times has Georgia failed to scored more than ten points since Mark Richt has taken over the program - twice Lambert has been the signal caller with Schottenheimer calling the plays. It happened to Mike Bobo and Aaron Murray four times as well, but that was over a stretch of 52 games (8%). This has happened with the Lambert/Schottenheimer twice in seven games (29%).
That begs the question: Will Mark Richt and Brian Schottenheimer actually move on Lambert and go with another quarterback? I don’t know, but I am sure it is being discussed.
To be frank, I don’t think there are any guarantees about who will start or play at quarterback from here on out. I really mean that. Knowing Mark Richt the way I feel like I do, I think that Lambert will start against Florida, but unlike earlier this season, I’m not sold that’s going to happen for sure… not at all.
If Lambert is the only quarterback to play against the Gators, win or lose, I think there will be some confusion. Lambert simply has not performed good enough to warrant looking only at him to get this offense out of this funk.
The season changed as soon as Nick Chubb fell in Knoxville. The dependable run game wasn’t as dependable (I should note that the Dawgs ran for 120 yards against a defense that’s No. 21 in the country in allowing only 113 a game; the Gators are No. 25 - allowing 116), but it existed against Missouri. I’m saying you could live with it… if… you had a passing game.
The pass game? Lambert should have had at least three - perhaps has many as five - interceptions on Saturday. If you are reading this you saw the game - you don’t need me to continue to bring up what happened wrong in that game in the passing game. I must add that i’m not sure what ESPN genius Jessie Palmer is talking about when he, with the benefit of replay, states that on Lambert’s first pass of the game, an interception that gave Missouri three points: “Yeah, this is a good read by Lambert trying to go to his tight end Blazevich. It looks like it just popped off his shoulder pad right up into the air.”
Lambert threw that ball into double coverage towards Blazevich, but Missouri LB Michael Scherer put two hands on the ball and would have had an interception, but knocked the ball into the air. It was a horrible decision. Palmer corrected himself after a commercial break.
Palmer’s eyesight notwithstanding, consider two things that should make folks very nervous as Georgia tries to find itself offensively.
1. Greyson Lambert has completed only six balls that have gone for at least 30 yards in seven games. Two of those passes came against ULM and Southern. That leaves four 30+ passes in 134 attempts in SEC. That’s less than a 3% hit rate on deep balls in SEC play. That means with Lambert, Georgia has a non-existent deep passing game. Ramsey, in his limited time, has attempted only 26 passes, but has two 30+ passes in that time - that’s about 8% deep ball rate. Numbers or no numbers - anyone with eyes can see that Ramsey gives Georgia much more in the stretch-the-field category of football if for no other reason than Schottenheimer calls many close-to-the-line passes with Lambert in the game.
Intermediate and deep balls, completed or not, should slightly unclog the defensive fronts Georgia will see in the future. Slants and screens can only move the ball down the field so much. No rational person would say they are willing to give away the deep ball in an SEC game, and Lambert, actually, is struggling to get that going. You have to have explosive plays on offense. Scoring on long drives is a nearly impossible way to win in the modern SEC, and the deep ball is a major component of that - particularly now that Nick Chubb is done for the year.
2. The passing game had more negative-yard plays against Missouri than the run game. That’s nearly impossible to accomplish. Georgia had four passing plays (-1, -3, -2 and -5) that lost a combined 11 yards. By contrast, Georgia’s run game (not counting sacks and kneel downs) had three negative plays (-2, -4 and -1), which combined to lose seven yards.
That’s stupefying. What’s worse is when one of the strings of negative plays in the passing game occurred. Down three late in the third quarter, Georgia would no longer depend on Lambert to get them yards with the pass - passing the ball was no longer worth the risk for the results yielded.
After a three-and-out that netted Georgia -13 yards thanks to a negative pass play and a ten-yard sack, Malcolm Mitchell forced a fumble on a Missouri punt return. Georgia, which had sputtered all night, was in business. But the Bulldogs had to depend on the run to avoid catastrophe. On that drive, Lambert completed 3 of 4 passes for one yard. The incompletion was ruled an interception, but was overruled by instant replay.
Also, and this might be worse, the passing game didn’t put an attempt into the end zone. That is to say that even though Georgia had the ball inside the Missouri 20-yard line 11 times - not once did an attempted pass travel into the airspace of the end zone. Not once. Georgia didn’t take a shot into the end zone the entire night.
Enough about the Missouri game (for now), we are two losses into a season, which brings up the inevitable question about Mark Richt’s hot seat. There is, obviously, more displeasure about Georgia being 5-2 at this point than I can remember in the past. Nearly all of that feeling is pointed at Brian Schottenheimer.
Still, let’s keep in mind a few things that most Georgia folks forget about.
1. Look around the college football landscape. Several institutions have invested more heavily in football than Georgia has for some time. The $40 million that Georgia dumped into football at the start of 2015 was a major step forward in the money world of college football. It showed that, under new UGA president Jere Morehead, Georgia was going to take a real run at playing with the big boys. All “excuses” or “reasons” for failure are slowly going away.
Investment in an indoor practice facility? Check.
Investment in assistant coaches’ salaries? Check.
Investment in off-the-field recruiting and strength? Check.
“We’ve done a lot of the work we’ve really never been able to do in the past,” one longtime Bulldog said to me just before the season.
But no one expected to see Georgia catch up with the likes of Ohio State and Alabama in nine months. Those programs have been investing in themselves for a long, long time. There is disappointment that Georgia lost to Tennessee - no question. The Vols are not great, but playing in Neyland is never easy. Beating Alabama seemed like a silly suggestion after the game. The Tide’s players were simply much better than Georgia on the whole.
But the way in which Georgia has slogged through games with the likes of Vanderbilt and Missouri; the struggles on offense - have been very much noticed. Richt partisans - meaning Mark Richt “guys” for lack of a better word - are wondering if Brian Schottenheimer is a one-and-done experiment… at least they are hoping that’s the case.
“Surely Schottenheimer can’t be this bad… can he?” one of them texted me during the Vanderbilt game.
And that’s understandable. Schottenheimer’s offense has been responsible for some of Georgia’s worst offensive production in almost 20 years of SEC play. Only three times (1995, 1998 and 2001) in the last 20 seasons has Georgia scored ten or fewer points in SEC play twice in a season. That’s already happened this year with three conference games left to go - lest we forget the Gators’ mighty defense.
That Jeremy Pruitt’s defense has allowed 30 points in 7 of 13 SEC games isn’t perfect, but he’s starting about half of the defense with players who are sophomores or younger. Pruitt is building towards something.
The frustration is clearly with the offensive side of the ball. Perhaps Richt has turned over too much power to his assistant coaches - that’s possible. No matter, the results have been woeful on offense. There might be some real pressure for Richt to move on Schottenheimer, who was awarded a contract that put him as the No. 2 paid offensive coordinator in the SEC and No. 7 overall in the country in the spring, if the offense doesn’t improve by the end of the year. That feels unlikely, but if he were dismissed, Georgia would owe him the remaining $1.9 million left on his contract, which includes two more years on the job.
Some may worry about if 5-star commit Jacob Eason would waiver on his decision to sign with Georgia if Schottenheimer left, but that also seems unlikely. As long as Richt is the coach, Eason will sign with the Bulldogs. Also, there is a time crunch there. If Schottenheimer were to be hired by an NFL team, which is totally possible considering he’s been an offensive coordinator there since 2006, Eason would already be on campus because he’s signing and enrolling early. So long as Richt is in Athens as head coach, Eason will enroll this winter - at least that’s what the smart money is betting.
2. Take a look around the landscape of college sports today. Steve Sarkisian was fired from USC due to his battle with alcoholism. Don’t forget about the Trojans being placed on NCAA probation in 2010. Rick Pitino is fighting back another sex scandal at Louisville. UNC has an academic scandal hovering over its head. Florida State’s players are consistently out of control and making headlines for the wrong reasons.
These football programs have all visited the NCAA naught list and have been placed on probation since 2011…
West Virginia (non-coaching staff members coaching)
Georgia Tech (impermissible benefits)
LSU (impermissible benefits)
Boise State (impermissible benefits)
Ohio State (impermissible benefits)
North Carolina (academic fraud; impermissible benefits)
South Carolina (impermissible benefits)
UCF (third parties)
Tennessee (various violations)
Mississippi State (impermissible benefits)
Iowa State (recruiting)
Georgia Tech (failed to monitor)
West Virginia (recruiting)
Syracuse (control and monitor)
Oklahoma State (Drug testing; recruiting
That holier than thou Georgia Tech football (failed to monitor) will be on probation until June 13, 2017 is hilarious considering how much finger wagging the Yellow Jackets have done over the years about their prowess on the field and academically.
Georgia has it safe with Mark Richt. Does anyone really believe there would be a brothel set up on East Campus road for potential recruits? Here’s to you Louisville - you really know how to pick head coaches.
I’ve had several folks who I trust tell me that firing Richt is a long, long way from where we are at right now. He delivers a consistent product on the field (one losing season in 14 years; nine ten-win seasons; seven times with top-ten finishes in the AP poll), and he’s not had any national embarrassments - here’s looking at you Ohio State, Miami, Florida State, Louisville and North Carolina.
Richt isn’t the best coach in the country. That’s pretty well established. But there are not a boatload of coaches who have a better track record than he does. Actually, no other coach in Georgia’s history has more wins than he does outside of Vince Dooley, who is canonized for winning it all in his 17th season.
Point being? Richt almost certainly isn’t going to get fired. Unless the Bulldogs lose every single game they play the rest of the year, which includes home dates with Kentucky and Georgia Southern, and a trip to Atlanta to take on suddenly-clueless Georgia Tech, Richt will take the Bulldogs to a bowl game for his 15th season in a row.
Again, most coaching isn’t the extremes. Most seasons are not championship seasons, or seasons where you are getting fired. Make no mistake - there is pressure on Richt to move the program forward. But the 2015 season probably isn’t going to be the referendum on his job status - particularly now that Nick Chubb is done for the year. Richt has had the great misfortune of his best two players miss more than half of the season two years in a row - that’s a tremendous amount of poor luck for a coach that you would think has to have things go his way once and for all at some point.
But the reality is that Richt isn’t without fault. He picked Schottenheimer, and Schottenheimer picked Lambert. He wasn’t “stuck” with Ramsey, Bauta and Park - a slew of schools, including Alabama, Florida, Virginia Tech and many others wanted both Ramsey and Park.
Schottenheimer went out and picked Lambert. That Lambert started the season was surprising to be sure. But that happened, and the program moved forward. Much of the frustration and confusion is that since Lambert struggled, which was the second game of the season. Since then Ramsey has played so few snaps; and that Bauta hasn’t throw a ball in a game. All of that after what was described as a “very, very close race”.
It seems like the new offensive coordinator is beating his head against the wall, and expecting to get something other than a headache the next time he beats his head against the wall. To say that Georgia has fumbled, mismanaged or goofed up the quarterback situation is putting it nicely.
That’s the one saving grace in all of this mess. Ramsey, who is totally inexperienced, but full of skill, could trigger a rebirth of sorts in the passing game. But anyone who expects him, after playing so scarcely in games were he could have played more, to come in and be very good is delusional. Ramsey’s time to grow would have been better suited for September - not October and November. I fully expect for Ramsey to “dribble it off of his shoe” a few times if he plays a lot. Why wouldn’t he?
But this is the situation Georgia finds itself in - a starting quarterback that’s playing so erratically that the program’s usually politically-correct coach is openly questioning his decision making in press conferences (with a smile; but questioning them none the less - “Surely, you think as a play caller, he won’t throw it here; and sure he enough he does. We lost five yards on that play.”)
The backup, always the most popular man on campus, hasn’t played much this season even though many in the program rave about his physical abilities and his potential. But the backup makes mistakes that young players make. He throws interceptions, and that's something the staff might not be willing to risk right now. Right now nothing is a great option for Georgia. They’ve gotten themselves in this situation - now they will have to figure a way out… if that’s possible.
You may have noticed on Tuesday that the Athens Banner-Herald reported that Mark Fox agreed to new terms for his contract. The big thing in the contract is the new structure for a buyout - should it ever be needed. The deal runs through the end of the 2020 season, but Fox can leave without owing Georgia anything; no buy out… no nothing.
That’s a very similar contract to the one Mark Richt has, and is a sign of the way Greg McGarity is moving forward with contracts at Georgia. Remember that after the 2012 football season McGarity moved away from the flawed contract that Richt had signed with Damon Evans in 2008. That contract made Richt’s buyout terms pretty crazy, and when the 2010 season rolled around those terms gave pause to simply firing Richt after his first losing season in ten years.
Fast forward a few years, and now Fox has a similar contract. Now the contract reads that Fox’s buyout for termination without cause (meaning poor performance on the court rather than a sex scandal re: Louisville) steadily moves lower by the year. Should Fox be fired after this season he would be due $2.3 million; after 2016-17 he would be due $1.7 million; after 2017-18 he would be due $1.1 million; after 2018-19 he would be due $500,000.
By contrast, the last contract Fox had with UGA would have paid him $3.2 million had he been let go with two years left on his contract - not $1.7 million. Georgia seems willing to pay its coaches to coach, but much less willing to commit to huge buyouts for them when they are not coaching.
Buyouts are something that have become outrageous in college sports. For instance, Florida had to work a little magic to pay Colorado State $7 million to hire Jim McElwain. Kevin Sumlin has a contract buyout of $5 million right now, but that drops to no buyout after the 2016 season in Aggieland. Needless to say one of the most ridiculous contracts of late was Charlie Weis, who, reportedly, received as much as $18 million after being canned at Notre Dame. He’s since been fired at Kansas, which is paying him $5.63 million after being fired according to the AP. Never has someone been paid so well for being so bad - Weis has a career record of 41-49 and is being compensated over $23 million for that losing.
America is a great country.