ATHENS — Georgia and its fans got what they paid for and Florida Atlantic got its $1 million check as the Bulldogs rolled over the Owls 56-20 on Saturday night at Sanford Stadium.
The win gets No. 7 Georgia off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2008, when it began the season ranked No. 1. The Bulldogs (1-0 SEC) play host to Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1) on Saturday.
Georgia simply overwhelmed their Sun Belt Conference visitors with offense. The Bulldogs rolled up a school-record 713 yards — breaking the 1993 record of 667 yards versus Southern Miss — and did it with strong running and passing.
Tailbacks Todd Gurley (111) and Keith Marshall (104) each went over 100 yards rushing — the first freshman pair to do that in a game since Thomas Brown and Danny Ware in 2004 — and quarterback Aaron Murray threw for a career-high 342 yards on 14-of-19 passing. He accounted for four touchdowns — two passing and two rushing — and he moved up to tie Eric Zeier for second on Georgia’s career passing TDs list with 67. David Greene is the all-time leader with 72.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Murray, who left the game late in the third quarter. “You’ve got to give credit to the way we worked this week in practice and the way we’ve been working. Guys have been determined to work their tails off to understand the game plan and what teams do defensively so we can come out and execute. And that’s what we did tonight.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s vaunted defense didn’t look as dominant. Playing without All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who sat out with a slight groin pull, the Bulldogs gave up 318 yards and 15 first downs. The Owls, who managed only one touchdown in their 7-3 win over Wagner to open the season, tied the score at 14-14 early in the second quarter and converted eight of 12 first downs in the first quarter.
“I was concerned,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “They were legitimately taking that ball and moving it down the field. Their quarterback was very confident, they were throwing and catching the ball and their running backs were good.”
But Georgia shut out the Owls’ offense in the second half and managed to rest most of its starters in the fourth quarter. And not having Jones made an impact.
“Yeah, I think it affected us.,” Richt said. “Guys like Jarvis tend to get you off the field. Knowing Jarvis, he probably would’ve been good for a sack or two.”
Everything wasn’t rosy for Georgia’s offense either. Murray threw an interception in the end zone, backup quarterback Christian LeMay threw a “pick-six” interception and the Bulldogs fumbled three times for the second week in a row, losing two this time. Also, the Bulldogs were penalized eight times after being flagged 12 times a week earlier.
“I didn’t like the turnovers,” Richt said. “There were too many balls on the ground. We’re still not fielding punts and kicks like we should. We have a lot to fix.”
Georgia’s victory came on a night when the school inaugurated — or “collared,” as they like to call it — a new mascot. Russ, the 8-year-old half-brother of Uga VII, was sworn in as Uga IX in a ceremony right before kickoff. Russ had served as interim Uga for 25 games over four seasons after the deaths of Ugas VII and VIII.
Gurley passed the century mark with a 38-yard touchdown run at the 10:18 mark of the third quarter. That gave him 106 yards on nine carries and Georgia a 42-14 lead. At that point Marshall had 104 yards on 10 carries. Gurley has scored a touchdown in all three of his games as a Bulldog and has five touchdowns on the season.
“That’s good right there, both of us getting 100 yards,” said Gurley, who is averaging 92 per game. “If we can do that every game the outcome should always be a win.”
The game featured several career highs for several players. Junior tight end Arthur Lynch scored the first touchdown of his career. He hauled in a Murray pass and went 36 yards, diving and reaching the ball over the pylon. It required an official review to reward him the score. Lynch had a career-best three catches for 73 yards.
A week after catching a career-best eight catches against Missouri, Michael Bennett had a career-high 110 yards receiving on four catches. He had a 67-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter.
Linebacker Amarlo Herrera had a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown that made the score 49-14 late in the third quarter. LeMay scored his first career touchdown on a quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter.
Whatever passion Georgia may have lacked in Saturday’s game should return 10-fold against the Commodores. You’ll recall that last year’s game between those teams in Nashville — the Bulldogs won 33-28 — ended with a shouting match between Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Vandy head coach James Franklin.
“I know we’ll be motivated for that game,” Richt said. “We’ll be ready.”
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