ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 15: Nexon Dorvilus #9 of the Florida Atlantic Owls pulls in this reception against Malcolm Mitchell #26 of the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on September 15, 2012 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
A craptacular first-half performance by the UGA defense gave way to domination after halftime. Here's what to take away from the Florida Atlantic game.
I spent all day Saturday hanging out with a very rabid Tennessee fan and a very rabid Florida fan, and while they were busy screaming at the television during the Florida-Tennessee game, I was more or less huddled in a corner with my laptop, watching Georgia-Florida Atlantic on ESPN3.com with the sound off. For nearly the entirety of the first half, I was growling curses under my breath, wondering why in the hell a defense that had looked so good was getting strafed by an offense that had finished dead last in total yards per game just last season.
As the night wore on, of course, my mood improved considerably. And if a glass-half-empty misanthrope like myself can come to terms with a so-so performance like that one and manage not to get too worked up about it, I'm pretty sure you can too. So at the risk of being too much of a Pollyanna about the whole thing, I've assembled the 5 Reasons Not To Get Too Worked Up About Saturday Night's Game, in no particular order:
1. As bad as the defense looked in the first half, they looked pretty darn good in the second. As with the Buffalo game, a switch seemed to be flipped at halftime that transformed the defense from little more than disinterested observers into wrecking balls. Until informed otherwise, I'm going to assume that switch involved Todd Grantham unleashing a torrent of profanity in the locker room at halftime that took years off his players' lives, but the numbers don't lie: After gaining a whopping 263 yards on 44 plays in the first half, Florida Atlantic was limited to just 55 yards on 25 plays after intermission. Three games into the season, the Dawgs are allowing an average of only 138 yards in the second half — not bad for a team for which second-half conditioning has been a bit of an issue over the past few years.
2. Some key defensive players were missing. Even more so than in the Buffalo and Missouri games, in fact. Defensive back Sanders Commings was back in the lineup, but Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree remained sidelined due to suspension — and linebacker Jarvis Jones, who jump-started a dark-horse Heisman campaign by going into beast mode at Mizzou, was kept out to keep from aggravating a lingering groin injury. With Jones out and Cornelius Washington played sparingly due to a hamstring strain, the Dawgs' ability to mount a pass rush was severely limited, which at least partially explains why FAU quarterback Graham Wilbert was throwing frozen ropes in the first half.
3. The offense went ballistic nearly the entire game. Lost in the hand-wringing over the spotty defensive performance was the fact that the Dawgs set a new single-game team record for total yardage, with 713 — shattering the previous record of 667 set against Southern Miss in 1993. Aaron Murray set his own single-game record with 342 passing yards; both Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall topped 100 yards rushing and 10 yards per carry. Even poor, maligned, plain-vanilla Mike Bobo ran a bunch of plays out of the pistol formation. The turnovers from the QBs were unfortunate, particularly Christian LeMay's, but they all happened too late in the game to make a difference.
4. This was a classic "sandwich" game. Coming off a statement win on the road against a good Missouri team, with the temptation to look ahead to next week's grudge match with Vanderbilt, yeah, there was plenty of temptation to lose focus against the lowly Owls, and the defense frequently gave into it in the first half. Fortunately, a similarly disinterested first-half performance against Buffalo in the opener gave way to a mostly superb day in a very dangerous game against a talented, motivated Missouri team. If the same thing happens this week, then with the Dawgs' defense back at full strength — well, as full as it's been so far in 2012, anyway — the team we see against the Commodores should be the one we've expected to see all season long.
5. Like, we still won by five touchdowns, dude. Sure, there was a lot about Saturday's overall performance that qualified as less than impressive. But if we're at the point now where we're using phrases like "least inspiring five-touchdown victory ever," then consider where that puts Georgia as a program. And consider how much better off we are than some of the other SEC teams that have played supposed body-bag games against Sun Belt competition recently. Would you rather be Arkansas or Kentucky right now?
It was hardly a perfect performance, sure, but I've long since stopped expecting that from the Bulldogs in these early-season games. What it was was a Georgia squad beating an overmatched opponent by exactly as much as they should have, and giving some of our star players ample opportunity to rest up in the bargain. These days that's about as win-win as it gets.
And now we all get a few days to charge up our hate-lasers for James Franklin and the Commodores. Whatever you think about the FAU game, I'm thinking we can all look forward to a fun week.