ATHENS — If you wanted clarity, you came to the wrong scrimmage. The quarterback who looked the best at G-Day is the quarterback who cannot start against Louisiana Lafayette on Sept. 4.
“I think today was a big day toward determining who will be the starter,” said Aaron Murray, but it wasn’t.
Zach Mettenberger outplayed both Murray, who’s considered the front-runner, and Logan Gray, who’s the only Georgia quarterback to have worked in a collegiate game. But Mettenberger, because of his arrest last month in Remerton, must serve at least a one-game suspension.
“Well, he can’t play in the first game,” Mark Richt said. “So that would be a factor.”
Richt declined after the game to name a No. 1 quarterback, but Georgia plans to release a post-spring depth chart, perhaps within a week. And that will be a big deal. Because Richt isn’t in the habit of changing his mind about his quarterbacks.
In the 10 years this coach has worked here, only in one season — that being 2006, when Joe Tereshinski III started the season as No. 1 but Matthew Stafford finished and even Joe Cox got a start — has the pecking order changed because of performance. Richt went out of his way Saturday to stress that the first-string quarterback headed into August won’t necessarily be No. 1 for Game 1: “We’ll gauge where we think they are, but that won’t tell you who’s going to start the first game.”
Then, minutes later: “I don’t think there’s any guarantee whoever starts the first week will be the starter the rest of his career. But he’ll have the best chance.”
Steve Spurrier will change quarterbacks on a whim. Richt has shown no such inclination. He stuck with David Greene when D.J. Shockley mounted a challenge, and last season he resisted the urge to remove the redshirt from Murray when Cox turned into a turnover machine. Richt, we must remember, was himself a quarterback and has coached quarterbacks — including two Heisman winners and one who was the NFL’s No. 1 draftee — for a quarter-century.
In sum, he knows what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. What Richt said he seeks in a quarterback: “Can he hit his target? Can he process all the information he has to process? And can he handle the pressure of the job?”
Of the three quarterbacks in contention, Murray arrived with the biggest hype. But he was the only quarterback not to lead a scoring drive this G-Day and the only one to throw an interception.
Asked to handicap the race, Murray said: “Zach did great. Logan did great. I think we all looked good … Zach definitely had his best performance.”
Said Gray: “I don’t know if anybody has done enough — or maybe we’ve all done so much — that I don’t know if there’s a clear-cut No. 1.”
There probably isn’t. But there is a clear-cut No. 3. Owing to his suspension, that’s Mettenberger. Per Georgia policy, he wasn’t available to the media afterward — a suspended player can’t meet the press — but the tallest of the three quarterbacks was seen leaving the locker dispensing the highest of high fives to teammates. And why not? He completed six of 10 passes for 150 yards.
But Mettenberger didn’t work with the first-string offense — or against the first-team defense — and that was another hint. Both Gray and Murray did, and Murray got a long look with the No. 1 unit in the second half. He was 8-of-19 for 96 yards with the Red team — he had been 2-for-3 for zero yards with the Black squad — and was less impressive this spring than he had been on G-Day 2009.
Which might mean something, but probably not. The post-spring depth chart, whenever it is unveiled, figures to have Aaron Murray atop it. Quarterback is the most important position on any team, but for Georgia it’s even bigger: The Bulldogs return 10 starters on offense. Their only unproven one will be the guy under center.