Georgia's quarterback controversy gains momentum

The most popular player is the No. 2 quarterback. Also, fans inevitably will turn any two-quarterback system into a controversy.

ATHENS, Ga. - All summer, Georgia coach Mark Richt has planned for a quarterback competition and guarded against a quarterback controversy. David Greene was Georgia's starting quarterback, D.J. Shockley was going to receive playing time in every game, and that was that.

Not so easy.

At the 7:23 mark of the fourth quarter of Georgia's season-opening win over Clemson last week, it became clear it would not be so easy to keep the controversy out of the competition.

After Shockley had played in back-to-back possessions, Greene came back out on the field. But before Greene could direct the drive that set up what would prove to be the game-winning field goal, the 2001 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year was greeted by scattered boos from Georgia fans in the Sanford Stadium sellout crowd.

No matter how mild, the boos were the first votes from the fans in what promises to be a season-long popularity contest between quarterbacks. Fans lining up behind - or worse, against - a player in a two-quarterback system is the first sign of controversy.

Richt says this is not an election. Playing time for the quarterbacks will not be determined by boos.

Said Richt of the reaction for Greene: "I think it's a concern and if we allow the fans or the media to pick the starting quarterback, then I think we've got a problem.''

Added Richt: "It's very hard not to react when somebody boos you. Everybody is human and you get your feelings hurt in a hurry.''

The three participants most affected by the boos - Richt and the two quarterbacks - accept the reality that quarterbacks are unique in terms of public perception. Players rotate at tailback, receiver and almost every other position without causing a stir, but inevitably a two-quarterback system causes debate.

Still, the boos in the season opener for a top 10 team were an ugly reality check.

"Do you think people will ever get used to it?'' asked Richt of the two-quarterback system.

After an off week for the 10th-ranked Bulldogs, the quarterback debate no doubt will travel with the team to next Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game at South Carolina.

Shockley directed the Bulldogs to touchdowns in two of his three possessions against Clemson. Greene struggled through his least productive effort in his two years as a starter, passing for only 67  yards while completing 12 of 21 attempts with a touchdown and an interception.

Richt already has said Shockley will receive increased playing time against South Carolina, but he has offered no details, other than to again stress that Greene is the starter. It is likely the public won't know more before the game and the quarterbacks won't be told of the plan before Friday. In the meantime, the questions continue:

Was Shockley's production merely the result of twice being given the ball inside the Clemson 35?

Despite all his team-first comments, was Greene distracted by the attention given to the two-quarterback system? Is it too much of a coincidence that his lowest career total for passing yards comes in the debut of the new system?

What happens if Greene again struggles and Shockley plays well at South Carolina? Will Shockley again receive a bump in playing time or even a promotion to the starter's role?

Finally, the question Richt least wants to consider: What happens if neither quarterback plays well at South Carolina?

Richt's best-case scenario is that both quarterbacks play well. He hopes that at least one of the two has a hot hand every week and says he is prepared to make adjustments to his plans during a game in order to give the hot player more snaps.

"I think most people know what David Greene can do,'' Richt said. "He's going to have better performances than (against Clemson) and D.J. probably won't be as sharp every game as he was.''

For now, Shockley is still riding the high from his debut and Greene seems unaffected by his slow start.

"It felt good, knowing you can come in and help,'' said Shockley.

Said Greene: "I felt it went great. We worked well together.''

Both players stress that the competition won't become a controversy between them.

"(The controversy) is something that's outside the program,'' Shockley said.

"It's all about what we know that goes on inside the program. Those outside the program are going to have their opinions about who they think should be playing. We're not concerned about that because everybody here knows how it works on the inside.''

Added Shockley: "The fans are a big part of what we do, but at the same time we have to take care of the program and what goes on here.''

No matter where similar competitions have been staged, two basic truths almost always emerge: First, the most popular player is the No. 2 quarterback. Also, fans inevitably will turn any two-quarterback system into a controversy.

"You know it's going to be a controversy, playing a position like quarterback,'' Greene said. "You're under a lot of scrutiny. It's going to be a controversy, although the team knows it's not a controversy.''

Richt's message to the fans - those cheering or booing - is that he won't make rash judgments on a week-to-week basis.

"One performance is not going to make me think that one guy is necessarily better than the other or one guy can't do it any more or one guy is the best thing since sliced bread,'' Richt said.

"I have the ultimate confidence in both, I really do. I think both are capable of playing winning ball for us, and that's why we plan to continue to play them both.''

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