ATHENS, Ga. — Turns out, the quarterback South Carolina fans should have been concerned with wasn’t Perry Orth.
It was Greyson Lambert.
The Gamecocks’ former walk-on signal-caller didn’t get many chances to engineer an upset in his first start, not with Lambert moving No. 7 Georgia up and down the field. One week after being benched, the graduate transfer from Virginia strafed South Carolina for a career-high 330 yards Saturday night, missing on just one pass attempt in a 52-20 rout of the Gamecocks before 92, 746 at Sanford Stadium.
“They completely clobbered us. Were a lot better than us. We’ve got to make some changes somewhere,” said Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier. “We’ve got to do something different.”
South Carolina had won four of its last five against Georgia, but suffered its worst loss to the Bulldogs since falling 31-7 in Athens in 2003. USC fell to 1-2 overall and 0-2 in the SEC for the first time since 2008, when it opened with a victory over North Carolina State before losing to Vanderbilt and Georgia. The Gamecocks finished that season 7-6 after falling to Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
Lambert completed just 11 of 21 attempts last week at Vanderbilt, where he was replaced at one point by backup Brice Ramsey.
But with USC intent on stopping tailback Nick Chubb and the Bulldogs’ running game, he completed 25 of 26 attempts for three touchdowns. His completion rate of 96 percent set NCAA, SEC and Georgia records, and his streak of 20 straight completions also set a school mark.
“You’ve got to give him credit, he made the plays he needed to make,” said USC co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke. “Disappointed that we did not make the plays. That was probably the thing that disappointed me the most. I thought we would compete a little bit better on balls, and we did not.”
Not that the Gamecocks managed to slow Chubb, either. The Heisman Trophy contender finished with 161 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, cracking triple digits for the 11th consecutive game, one away from tying the school record owned by Herschel Walker. Lambert and Chubb directed a Georgia attack which gained 576 yards of total offense, while USC managed 258.
“It’s definitely not the scheme,” said linebacker Skai Moore, who led the Gamecocks with 12 tackles. “We’ve just got to come out and execute. You can’t put this on Hoke. This is all on us.”
The final result was Spurrier’s worst loss since Auburn beat USC 56-17 in the 2010 SEC championship game. “We’ve got to find some players who can tackle and cover,” he said. “We’ve got to do more defensively, obviously, than what we’re doing. We can’t just stand there and play.”
Orth, who took over last week after Connor Mitch went down with a separated shoulder, started the game but rotated in and out with true freshman Lorenzo Nunez. Both quarterbacks had their moments — Orth connected with tight end Jerell Adams on a big third-down pickup before dashing in for a four-yard score, and Nunez gained 17 yards on a keeper and later scrambled to pick up a fourth-and-1.
“I’ll remember it the rest of my life,” said Orth, who went 6 of 17 for 66 yards and an interception in his first career start. “It definitely wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but it was an awesome experience.”
It wasn’t nearly enough against Georgia (3-0, 2-0 SEC), which countered with too many weapons. If it wasn’t Chubb running through the Gamecocks or Lambert passing over them, it was Sony Michel coming off the bench to rush for one touchdown and catch two more. Lambert completed passes to nine different receivers, with Malcolm Mitchell leading the way with eight catches for 122 yards and a score.
“I felt good about our preparation, but we didn’t execute,” Hoke said. “Obviously, I’ve got to go back and look at how we prepared, because I thought we had good practices going into the week. We didn’t see the execution tonight.”
Lambert transferred to Georgia after losing the starting job at Virginia in spring practice, and earned the nod over Ramsey in preseason camp. “He kept the ball basically in front. They were pretty easy completions for him,” Hoke said.
Moore admitted that the Georgia quarterback was “a little bit better than I thought.” Spurrier said Lambert “played well. He had a lot of open receivers, and they caught everything. Give them credit, they caught everything.”
USC’s defense had shut out opponents over the second half of its opening two games, the only score during that span being a return of a fumbled two-point conversion attempt last week by Kentucky. Saturday, though, it was a different story — the Bulldogs shook off the Gamecocks and looked every bit the big favorites Vegas made them to be, scoring touchdowns on five consecutive drives and opening the second half with a 21-0 knockout blow.
“I feel like we have the talent, we just have to bring it mentally and execute on our assignments,” Moore said. “We’ve just got to be there mentally.”
The bright spots for USC were few and far between. Nunez scored his first college touchdown on a 7-yard run, while place-kicker Elliott Fry hit both of his field goal attempts including a career-best 51-yarder to end the second half. Shon Carson averaged 27 yards on six kickoff returns, including a 51-yarder which set up Fry’s personal-best kick.
But it proved a pittance against a Georgia team which faced third down just four times, punted twice, and savored a blowout victory over a program and a head coach which had bedeviled them so many times before.
“It wasn’t very pretty,” Spurrier said. “Maybe Georgia’s that good. We’ll find out.”