No. 7 Georgia Bulldogs vs. South Carolina
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Last year: South Carolina won 38-35
ATHENS — Georgia appears to have all the makings of a championship team.
Except at the most visible position on the field.
After two games, there are still plenty of questions about the player taking snaps for the No. 7 Bulldogs. Greyson Lambert, who transferred to Georgia after losing his starting job at Virginia, looked a bit shaky last weekend in a 31-14 win at Vanderbilt.
Not surprisingly, coach Mark Richt spent a good part of his weekly media briefing Tuesday defending his starting quarterback.
“Sometimes,” Richt said, “you’ve got to show a little patience before guys catch on and really play well.”
Lambert was just 11 of 21 passing for 116 yards, his longest completion going for 19 yards. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Nick Chubb had another huge day on the ground (189 yards), while the special teams and defense each produced a touchdown.
Isaiah McKenzie scored on a 77-yard punt return in the first quarter and Dominick Sanders brought back an 88-yard interception return to clinch the victory with just over a minute remaining.
Second-string quarterback Brice Ramsey has also gotten playing time in the first two games, though Richt stressed that Lambert is the clear-cut starter. The last thing the coach wants is a quarterback controversy heading into Saturday’s matchup with South Carolina, but neither signal-caller has shown enough so far to establish a degree of separation.
Richt pointed out that Lambert is still learning the ropes at his new school, having only transferred to Athens at the beginning of the summer.
“I know from playing that position that you don’t become super-proficient overnight,” said Richt, who was a backup quarterback at Miami during his college days. “I know Lambert has played a lot of college ball, but he’s not played a lot of college ball in this league or in this system. There’s a learning curve. It’s going to get better as you go.”
Lambert was picked as the starter less than a week before the opening game. His debut was a breeze — a 51-14 rout of Louisiana-Monroe — but the first Southeastern Conference game quickly rekindled doubts that were there throughout the offseason.
“We just couldn’t find our rhythm, especially in the passing game,” Lambert conceded. “We didn’t get to go up-tempo as much as we would have liked. Some of that was us and some of that was them, which kind of kept us out of our rhythm a little bit.”
With Chubb leading the way, the Bulldogs surely have one of the best running games in the country. Sony Michel provides a versatile threat, capable of breaking big plays as both a runner and a receiver, while Keith Marshall finally looks healthy after two injury plagued seasons.
But teams are going to stack the line even more if Lambert doesn’t provide at least the threat of a passing game. It will be difficult for Georgia to win the SEC and even contend for a national title without a top-flight quarterback.
“We can throw the ball,” Chubb said confidently. “It’s just game two.”
While avoiding turnovers is one of Richt’s top priorities, he seemed a bit concerned about the offense becoming too conservative. Just because the running game and defense is good enough to win most games, he doesn’t want to make a habit of it.
Richt’s advice to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer: “Be free to call whatever you feel good about.”
“Don’t feel like we need to run for X amount of yards or get the ball to Chubb so many times,” the head coach said. “You want to use our skills positions the best you can, use the talent you have. Just feel free to attack the defense in the game the way you attack them all week in the film room. Call what you believe in, and let’s go.”