Athens, GA – The seventh-ranked Georgia Bulldogs open a three-game homestand this Saturday night when they entertain the Florida Atlantic Owls in non-conference action from Sanford Stadium.
FAU is 1-1 on the young season, following a 7-3 win over FCS foe Wagner in the opener, and a 31-17 setback to Middle Tennessee last weekend. The loss to the Blue Raiders counts in the Sun Belt Conference standings, where the Owls are hopeful for a better showing than last year when they went winless (0-8) en route to a dismal 1-11 record overall.
Georgia has put up more than 40 points in each of its first two games, beating Buffalo in the season opener (45-23) before kicking off its SEC slate last week with a three-touchdown win over league newcomer Missouri. The Bulldogs are in the midst of a 12-game, regular-season win streak, and following this bout they will battle conference foes Vanderbilt and Tennessee before heading out on the road to tangle with South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida.
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between Florida Atlantic and Georgia on the football field.
Despite averaging nearly as many yards as it allows (341.5 to 350.0), FAU has only managed to put 24 points on the scoreboard in two games. The Owls have a capable QB in Graham Wilbert, as he has completed 77.8 percent of his pass attempts for 386 yards, three TDs and no INTs. Travis Jones leads the club with nine receptions, but he has only 84 receiving yards and has yet to find the end zone. In contrast, Byron Hankerson has one fewer catch, but has 141 yards and two scores. FAU has yet to produce a 100-yard rusher this season, but Martese Jackson is about to hit the mark as he enters this contest with 99 yards on 21 carries.
Last week's clash with Middle Tennessee was a defensive struggle for the first half, but both teams got going after intermission, combining for 41 points. FAU managed just 96 net rushing yards compared to 302 for the Blue Raiders, but Wilbert finished the day 25-of-32 for 260 yards and a pair of TDs to make the final score a bit more respectable. Jones and William Dukes led the Owls' receiving corps with six catches apiece, totaling 115 yards. Hinds led the defensive effort with 11 tackles, and he added both a forced fumble and fumble recovery to his stat line.
Defensively, the Owls are yielding just 17 ppg, but they've been battered by the opposition's ground game (215.5 ypg). FAU has been solid against the pass however, permitting a mere 134.5 ypg, although foes have only attempted 34 passes to this point. The Owls have been stingy on third down, as the enemy converts a mere 28 percent of the time, but the squad has just two sacks so pressure up front will be key to the defense standing its ground as the season moves along. LB David Hinds has been FAU's most active defender thus far, collecting 21 total tackles, and his 12 solo efforts are nearly as many as his closest teammate has total stops.
Trailing by a point at the half, the Georgia Bulldogs turned up the heat late in last week's SEC opener at Missouri to win by a final score of 41-20. QB Aaron Murray hit the mark on 22-of-35 passes for 242 yards and three TDs, reaching Marlon Brown eight times for 106 yards and two scores. Michael Bennett added 79 yards on eight grabs as well, and the UGA run game was fueled by Todd Gurley's 10 carries for 65 yards and a score.
While it's early, Murray has been on point, throwing for an even 500 yards with six TDs and only one INT. Bennett is the team's leading receiver with 13 grabs for 155 yards and a score, while Gurley heads the ground assault with 165 yards and three TDs.
The Georgia defense stood firm at the line of scrimmage last week, allowing just 102 net rushing yards, but Missouri QB James Franklin did manage to throw for nearly 270 yards and a couple of TDs. LB Amarlo Herrera led the 'Dawgs with 10 tackles, and he pounced on a fumble as well. All-American LB Jarvis Jones logged an INT and notched both of the team's sacks in the game, finishing with nine total stops.
Jones paces the club in tackles (17), QB hurries (11), sacks (3.5) and INTs (one), the Bulldogs having a total of eight guys with double-digit tackles thus far. They average just 1.5 turnovers per outing, so perhaps taking a few more chances here and there would be beneficial.
Georgia LB Christian Robinson was obviously happy to get the win at Missouri, but knows the euphoria will be short-lived as the team turns its attention to FAU.
"We're happy about what we did (at Missouri), but we need to get redirected on what's important now, and that's this week's game. We're excited for it; it's another home game and I'm sure the fans are excited to have us back ... We have to stay energetic and keep that same level of intensity we had against Missouri."
While many believe this game will get out of hand in a hurry, Georgia defensive lineman John Jenkins knows his team can ill-afford to look past the Owls.
"We need to stay focused. We're not taking any team lightly. As long as we stay focused and do what we're supposed to do, the momentum will stay there."