By now, I would be surprised if you hadn’t heard the report Gridiron Now’s Mike Huguenin dropped last night about the decision to name Faton Bauta as tomorrow’s starter.
Sources tell gridironnow.com that Bulldogs junior Faton Bauta, who has been the third-stringer for much of the season, will start against the Gators in a game that seems likely to determine the SEC East title. Greyson Lambert had started Georgia’s first seven games.
Bauta (6 feet 3, 215 pounds), a fourth-year junior who already has graduated, has received scant playing time as a Bulldog. He has played in 14 games in his career, but hasn’t run or passed the ball in seven games this season. Most of his action this season has come as the holder on kicks.
In his career, Bauta has 10 rushes for 46 yards and two touchdowns, and he is 4-of-5 for 48 yards as a passer.
There have been plenty of rumors over the past week that the coaches had opened up the competition at quarterback – indeed, Richt flat out acknowledged that Lambert, Ramsey and Bauta all took snaps with the first unit – so the idea that Bauta might get some snaps against Florida isn’t a total shock. But the idea that he will start is unusual and surprising.
I say unusual as opposed to unique because, if it’s indeed the case, it wouldn’t be the first time Mark Richt elected to change horses in mid-stream. If you’ll remember, in 2006, Joe Cox briefly supplanted Matthew Stafford as the starter after Cox pulled Georgia’s nuts out of the fire with a brilliant game winning drive against Colorado, only to lose his place back to Stafford when Cox proved ineffective in his only start.
Their situations aren’t identical, of course, in that at least Cox had a moment to prove he could lead the team in a game, while Bauta, as the stats Huguenin cites above show, has never had any meaningful playing time before. And throwing Bauta out there to start and play a game against an above-average SEC defense to get his feet wet is one helluva sink or swim call by Richt.
If that, indeed, what it is. Keep in mind all we have to go on right now is an Internet report. No one on the staff or the team has acknowledged it yet.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that it’s true and Bauta walks out on Georgia’s first possession to take the snap from center. What does that tell us?
- First and foremost, it’s not a decision you make if you’re Mark Richt and you’ve decided to play for next year. You’ve said all along your team is in the hunt for the SEC East title and now that you’ve made it to the game that will likely decided which East team goes to Atlanta, you’re not suddenly deciding to throw a kid who’s already graduated out there to see if he’s got what it takes to run the team in 2016.
- Second, starting isn’t the same thing as playing the entire game. For all we know, Schottenheimer has scripted a complete first series around Bauta and after that’s run, things go back to Lambert. That would be a sensible way to have used the bye week to prepare a wrinkle or two for Florida’s defense. And the best thing about that would be Georgia would have a set of plays that could be used later in the game in third down and red zone situations – both areas of weakness for the offense so far this season.
- Third, the timing of the leak is interesting. It comes conveniently on the team’s travel day, so there’s no way the coaches are available to shed any light on the situation. But it comes so close to the game that it’s too late to expect Florida to spend any serious preparation time on whatever wrinkle it might think Bauta brings to Georgia’s strategy. Which begs the question what the purpose of the timing of the news is. (Unless you really assume this got out by total accident.)
- Finally, what kind of message have the coaches sent to Lambert and Ramsey with this decision? If it’s just a limited set of plays in a specific package for Bauta, then it’s pretty easy to explain the strategy. But if this is some sort of sea change in deciding who’s best to lead the offense, boy, you’d better hope the coaches know what they’re doing here, because if that goes south, all you’re left with are three quarterbacks who have no reason to feel any confidence in what they’re being asked to do – not to mention their mates on offense. (And what pressure does this put on the defense!)
All of which is my way of saying I don’t think this is a sign of desperation on Richt’s part. But seeing I’m surprised by the decision in the first place, you may not want to rush to accept my take on things. Your thoughts?