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STL Roundtable: Virginia's QB Situation

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Hooooos our QB?

Hoo should be the Hoos' QB? (Lambert, left, or Johns, right)
Hoo should be the Hoos' QB? (Lambert, left, or Johns, right)
Both photos credit Joe Robbins (Getty Images)

During his press conference after UVA's 28-20 loss to UCLA, Mike London insisted: "There is no QB controversy." However, reality belies his words. We don't know who will start against Richmond on Saturday, but we do know that both Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns will play.

Your STL staff engaged in a (sometimes heated) discussion of what in the world Virginia should do with their QB1 spot:

Paul Wiley: Greyson Lambert should start at QB. Greyson Lambert should remain at QB. Greyson Lambert is the one true QB. Every throw that Matt Johns made against UCLA was one that Lambert could have made. Yes, the second TD to Jennings was a beautiful arcing rainbow that left puppies and baby unicorns in its wake, but the Levrone TD was an under throw. It seemed like Fairchild opened up the offense when Lambert came out and Johns came in, which has now led to all of Virginiadom anointing Johns the next coming of Joe Montana. But one guy took all the snaps with the first team during the offseason, and one guy called the wrong play on the most critical down of the game.

In the NFL, I'm a Texans fan. I have some experience with QBs throwing too many picks-six, and backups dazzling in relief. A pick-six is a statistical anomaly. There are some things that make them more likely to repeat: for Matt Schaub, his weak arm meant DBs could sit on curls and outs; for Lambert, more screens and slants from Fairchild means DBs have more chance to jump passes in the flats, which in turn are more likely to turn into defensive TDs. In the former scenario, the only option was to change the QB. In the latter, the QB is far less important than the play-calling and the offensive design. Johns looked fine, and he played great against UCLA, but plug him into the same plays and you're going to end up with picks-six before too long.

At the end of the day, it's about playing the guy who gives you the most options to do the things that make your offense work. I am more concerned that Fairchild doesn't know what makes this offense work. But I liked what I saw from Lambert in the no-huddle. If someone can figure out how to get him a running game that keeps defenses honest and opens up play-action looks, I see more long-term success with Lambert than Johns.

Matt Trogdon: "But one guy took all the snaps with the first team during the offseason, and one guy called the wrong play on the most critical down of the game."

That's pretty simplistic logic, Paul. Aren't you in law school? I'd expect better.

How's this: "One guy threw two pick sixes -- and one guy threw two touchdowns. Play the guy who threw the touchdowns." See? I can play the simplistic logic game, too!

For PR sake, I think Mike London needs to start Matt Johns on Saturday. Starting Lambert will give people flashbacks to Christian Olsen, and Marc Verica. Johns came in and provided an instant spark with both his arm and his feet. He played like he wanted the job, which is something we can't say we've seen from a Virginia quarterback in a long time.

Bigger picture, I feel pretty decent about the QB position. Lambert and Johns both looked better than we've seen from the position in recent years. I'd trust either of them to manage the game well enough for us to win with our defense.

Paul "Tiki" Guttman: You can't just disregard John's play that simply. Could Lambert make all those throws that Johns made? Sure. So could Watford. So could I (ok maybe not). The point is that Johns DID make them and Lambert DIDN'T. Was it playcalling? Was it Lambert's injured shoulder? Was it a little bit of nerves on the part of Lambert? Was it Johns' "nothing to lose" attitude? I don't know.  Most likely, Lambert and Johns themselves don't know.  I think we can all agree that he coaching staff doesn't know.

Should Lambert be benched because Johns had a better half than Lambert? No, of course not. But should Johns go back to the bench after nearing leading us to a win over a top 10 team? Again, of course not. So who starts? In my opinion, assuming Lambert's shoulder isn't an issue, he starts. That is mostly because he is "the starter". There's no reason to change that after one game and 10 passes. If Lambert comes out on Saturday and plays lights out, then everybody shuts up about Johns (at least for a while). If he doesn't, Johns comes in and may the best man win.

Wiley: Quick rejoinder: Johns didn't almost lead us to a win over a top-10 team. He almost didn't piddle away a defensive unit that otherwise led us to a win over a top-ten team

Guttman: IMO, 3 scoring drives of over 50 yards qualifies as "almost leading us to a win".

Drew Goodman: Stop me if you've heard this before... there is a quarterback controversy in Charlottesville. Why? Because the awful play-calling put Virginia in this situation. UCLA was practically inside the huddle on the third defensive touchdown of the day. UVa's two touchdowns came when Fairchild finally went up-tempo.. quicker to the line, less subs, more downfield etc. Johns was impressive considering I'm sure he didn't wake up that morning thinking that he would be called upon to lead the offense, but I don't think any of the throws he made were that remarkable. The TD to Levrone was underthrown, but it was a great effort by a freshman to go up and get the ball.

You don't spend the entire off season billing Lambert as the guy, only to completely abandon him in week two, but at the same time, this could be 2006 all over again. If Virginia is to return to a bowl game, the quarterback situation needs to be figured out yesterday. Encourage the competition in practice, but start Lambert against Richmond. If things head south, at least there is a backup with some game experience.

Caroline Darney: AHHHH. I have gone back and forth on this for about four days now, and I honestly don't know where I stand. How do you not start the guy named the 'starter' all spring season? How do you not start the guy who threw for 2 TDs and nearly wins the game?

I think you have to go with Lambert to start. When you look at his numbers, Greyson completed just shy of 70% of his passes for 112 yards. One of the turnovers (the fumble) was totally no fault of his, and possibly halted a Lambert-led scoring drive (what if what if what if...I know). The first pick-six was tipped. The second was awful. Dem's da breaks. 

Am I surprised he was pulled? Yes. Do I blame London? No...I don't know if you've heard, but this season is kind of life-impacting for him. Also, he used to be a cop. 

Ah, but Matt Johns. #MattyFootball. #John(s)yFootball. Wasn't it nice to have someone out there reading the pressure? Johns moved out of the pocket and found open space...while still looking to convert the pass. The routes just looked crisper by the receivers. Is that Johns? Probably not fully...he 1000% benefited from much more aggressive and useful play calling. However, you can't argue with the results. 

I think in the long run, I agree with Tiki. Start Lambert. If he falters...it's up to Johns. BUT...give Lambert the same benefit of the play calling Johns got in the second half. Oh, and take a couple risks. I want to see the coaches play to win, not just play to keep it close. 

I feel bad for London in this situation...I really do. No matter what, he's drawing the ire of the "fans". Start Lambert and it's, "HOW DO YOU NOT PLAY THE HOT HAND!" Start Johns and it's, "YOU ARE SO WISHY-WASHY. STAND BY YOUR GUY!" Somebody hand me some popcorn.

Brian Schwartz: First of all, if Lambert does, in fact, lose his starting job after a rough first half in his first start against a top-ten team, that's the hardest-luck demotion I have ever heard of.

I agree that Matt Johns did a far better job than Lambert in week 1 - some of it was playcalling, as he was put into a better position to succeed, but he made the most of it. And maybe Johns is the better option going forward? But it's impossible to come to that conclusion based on one week of play.  The good thing is that the coaching staff doesn't have to base their conclusion off one week of play - they have seen these guys competing for years, and especially this past offseason. I would REALLY like to believe that I trust the coaching staff enough to be able to use all this information to pick out the player that gives us the best chance to win.  I'm not sure they do...but the idea is that they HAVE to know better than we fans do.  Right? (I feel like I am trying to convince myself).

London has already said both Lambert and Johns will get time against Richmond. In a vacuum, that's not a bad idea and makes perfect sense. But, fair or not, when taken in context of the various unsuccessful rotation systems we have seen over the years, it's depressing that we are at this point just days into the 2014 football season.

Okay, that's all from us. What say you guys?