ATHENS — Mark Richt knew what was coming. He was sitting on it like a first-pitch fastball.
Asked in his postgame press conference about the play of his starting quarterback after Georgia’s 52-20 win over South Carolina, Richt pounced.
“I can’t believe he threw an incompletion,” Richt said. “I was disappointed in that. But we’ll forgive him.”
That was tongue in cheek, of course. There was literally nothing anyone could criticize about the performance of Greyson Lambert Saturday night at Sanford Stadium.
Even his lone incompletion of the game was delivered with a purpose. With all his targets covered in the end zone, he sailed a third-down pass well over the head of tight end Jeb Blazevich in the back of the end zone as Georgia settled for a field goal on its first possession of game.
The Bulldogs wouldn’t settle again. They scored touchdowns on their next seven possessions as Lambert completed a Georgia record 20 passes in a row after that. He finished with an NCAA record for completion percentage on more than 20 attempts — 96 percent — and was 24-of-25 passing for 330 yards and three touchdowns for the game.
It was a performance for the ages.
“I had no idea,” Lambert said when informed in the postgame locker room of his accomplishment. “I guess that feels pretty good. We just kind of got going pretty quickly. We opened (the game) up with three straight passes and everybody did their role and we were able to get some execution happening.”
That’s an understatement. To be clear, no one in FBS history has completed more passes at a higher rate. Tennessee’s Tee Martin (South Carolina, 1998) and West Virginia’s Geno Smith (Kansas, 2012) each completed 95.8 percent (23-of-24) of more than 20 passes before Saturday. The previous best mark by a Georgia quarterback was 86.9 percent by David Greene (20-of-23) against Vanderbilt in 2002.
He also bested Mike Bobo’s school record for consecutive completions. The former UGA offensive coordinator hit 19 in a row against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl in 1998. In that, Richt took a little delight.
“Good!” Bobo’s former boss said playfully. “I hope he won (against Colorado Saturday). But I’m glad we got his record.”
Lambert’s completions went to nine different receivers. His first six passes of the night were caught by six different receivers. Senior wideout Malcolm Mitchell was the recipient of eight of his throws and got 122 yards and a touchdown out of them.
This, of course, was coming a week after Lambert failed to complete a pass on his first seven attempts against Vanderbilt. And it came on national television during a rousing victory over SEC Eastern Division rival South Carolina.
Asked if it could get any better, Lambert deadpanned: “There’s always room for improvement — 25-for-25.”
Even the Ol’ Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, couldn’t help but marvel at the junior quarterback’s performance.
“Yep, that’s pretty good,” he said. “A record breaking day. For Georgia. Not for us. .. I thought we could, you know, force some punts.”
Georgia finally did, but not until five seconds were left in the third quarter. The second string would one more time on the last possession of the game.
No one was happier for Lambert than his teammates. To varying degrees, they’d all stood up and defended their quarterback as he withstood an avalanche of criticism following two games of less than 142 yards passing to open the season. He’s just not being asked to throw much, they said. He’s still getting his timing down, they said.
“We had faith in him coming in because we’ve seen him all summer, all preseason and all that. People don’t see him as much as we do, so we know what he’s capable of. So when we were asked, we told everybody, ‘Greyson’s a good quarterback.'”
Said Mitchell: “If you’d had told me he’d have a game like this I wouldn’t have said no. Because of the way he attacked practice this week, the way we attacked practice this week as a unit. It’s just, you know, you compete with a guy every day. The stuff that’s surprising to the media is not really out of sight for us because we always believe in our teammates. We know if he plays to the best of his ability things like that will happen.”
Richt said there was evidence this might happen in practice this week as the Bulldogs threw the football similarly in practice all week. There is also a theory that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer merely loosened the handcuffs he’d put on Lambert and the offense the first two weeks.
About that, Lambert was not certain.
“I don’t know,” said Lambert, who’d never completed more than 10 in a row before. “I guess that’s just how it went this week. I don’t know if we were preserving anything in the first couple of weeks. This week is just how this week went.”
Lost in Lambert’s historical passing night was a lot of other good things that happened.
Nick Chubb had another 100-yard-plus game (159 on 21 carries) and scored two more touchdowns.
Sony Michel added three more scores and had 83 all-purpose yards.
Georgia’s defense stuffed the Gamecocks’ run game to the tune of 3.9 yards per carry over the first three quarters, which were all that mattered. And Dominick Sanders nabbed another interception.
But no matter how you decipher it, this night will always be remembered for the almost flawless perfection with which Greyson Lambert played at quarterback.
“It was good. You guys know what records were had, I guess. But just to be as precise as he was, you need protection, you need good route-running, you need good scheme. You need a lot of things to happen and those did happen. But again, you’ve got to be able to physically put it on the money. And he did that. There were very few balls that weren’t right on the money.”