Aaron Murray and the offense has looked solid through two games heading into today’s third test of the season against FAU.
ATHENS — If Georgia was planning to take the week off, coach Mark Richt merely had to throw out two words to get his players’ attention.
Yes, the No. 7 Bulldogs are a huge favorite for tonight’s game against Florida Atlantic, but Arkansas was in essentially the same position a week ago. Look what happened there — Louisiana-Monroe pulled off a shocking 34-31 upset in overtime, knocking the Razorbacks, who had been ranked No. 8 right behind Georgia, all the way out of The Associated Press Top 25.
“We know where we want to be, and we know what we have to do to get there,” said John Jenkins, the Bulldogs’ nose guard.
“That means not taking any team lightly.”
Georgia’s resolve will be tested this week. Florida Atlantic (1-1) has just two victories in the last 22 months, and one of those was an ugly 7-3 win over lower-division Wagner in the season opener.
The Bulldogs (2-0) opened as a 44½-point favorite.
Florida Atlantic is essentially playing this game for the money. The Owls will receive $1 million from Georgia, and another $1 million payout next week to get beaten by … uh, to play top-ranked Alabama.
“I don’t think it’s good for college football, but I understand the reality of why schools have to play those games,” said Carl Pelini, Florida Atlantic’s first-year coach. “What I think was irresponsible of this scheduling was … that Georgia is not in any way shape or form similar to any of our opponents in the Sun Belt. What happens is you end up preparing for that game and there is not any carry-over into your conference play.”
Georgia is coming off an impressive 41-20 win at Missouri, dominating the second half to ruin the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference debut.
The Bulldogs showed off a four-receiver set that gave quarterback Aaron Murray plenty of options. Bouncing back from a tough start, he wound up completing 22 of 35 for 242 yards and three touchdowns. Marlon Brown had eight catches for 106 yards and a pair of TDs. Michael Bennett also had eight receptions, while Tavarres King hauled in the other score.
“I think the best position on our team is receiver,” Murray said. “They create such huge mismatches. When you have four guys out there, there’s not a lot of teams that have that many DBs that can cover our guys. We legitimately have four, five, six guys who could start anywhere in the country. And they’re playing at all times for us.”
On the other side of the line, the Bulldogs are led by outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who demolished Missouri with perhaps the best game of his college career. He had nine tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, an interception (which he nearly brought back for a touchdown), and pressured the quarterback five times.
Not surprisingly, Jones was named SEC defensive player of the week, received numerous national accolades, and started getting mentioned as a possible Heisman contender. There were comparisons to former LSU cornerback Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu, who made it to New York as a finalist last year.
“It’s hard for a defensive player to get that award,” Jones said. “But I think Honey Badger definitely opened up the door for rest of us.”
While Jones’ playing time will likely be limited against Florida Atlantic, giving him a chance to heal a couple of nagging injuries, the Georgia defense will be bolstered by the return of at least two suspended players.
Defensive back Sanders Commings sat for the first two games after an offseason arrest for domestic violence, while linebacker Chase Vasser received the same penalty for a DUI charge.
Both are eager to get back on the field.
“The toughest part was the Missouri game, having to watch that game,” Commings said. “Our guys were so pumped up. That’s the kind of environment you want to play in — a hostile environment on the road. I’m just glad we got the win.”
Vasser watched the game at home with his parents.
He never wants to go through that again.
“They kept mentioning how it was uncomfortable for them and they didn’t like it,” Vasser said. “They made me stressful because they were freaking out with what was going on in the game. They were yelling and it was making me very upset. I was not happy watching it with them. I was texting Sanders and telling him, ‘Dude, we’ve got a couple of more hours and we’re free.’”
Richt still isn’t saying when two other suspended players, All-American safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree, will return, though they aren’t likely to be needed this week. Rambo is expected to be out at least two more games after failing a drug test during the offseason.
While Commings and Vasser are thrilled to be playing again, there’s not a whole lot of excitement on the Georgia campus for this expected mismatch. In fact, the most memorable part of this night could be a ceremony before the game, when the school will officially introduce its latest canine mascot, Uga IX.
A dog named Russ is taking over the job, having filled the post a couple of times on an interim basis before getting it permanently.
Richt jumped at the chance to have a little fun when asked about the latest Uga.
“He could’ve have gotten bitter, with everyone saying he couldn’t get it done,” the coach said, trying to contain a smile. “He didn’t like it. He bowed his neck and won the job. I’m proud of him.”