ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia was heading toward near-humiliation when Florida Atlantic scored its second consecutive touchdown in as many possessions against the No. 7 Bulldogs’ defense to tie the game early in the second quarter.
Georgia’s offense finally created the separation expected with four touchdown drives in a row to blow the game open as the Bulldogs pulled away for a 56-20 victory in Sanford Stadium on a night it put up some record-breaking offensive numbers.
A game that again started rough finished with Georgia rolling up 713 yards of total offense, a school-record.
Quarterback Aaron Murray had a career game with 342 passing yards. Running backs Todd Gurley (111 yards on 10 carries, one touchdown) and Keith Marshall (104 yards on 10 carries, one touchdown) became the first pair of Georgia freshmen to rush for 100 yards each since Thomas Brown and Danny Ware in 2004 against Vanderbilt.
And the Bulldogs hit the 40 point-mark for a third consecutive game to open the season, the first time that’s happened in program history.
Georgia is off to its first 3-0 start since 2008. Now comes a stretch of seven consecutive Southeastern Conference games, beginning with Vanderbilt (1-2) next Saturday night in Athens.
Florida Atlantic, a 41-½ point underdog, had scored seven against FCS program Wagner and 17 against Middle Tennessee in its first two games and had scored seven or less points in six games last season when it went 1-11, but here it was tied at 14-14 in the second quarter.
The Owls converted seven of its first 10 third down tries and hit big plays all over.
They drove into Georgia territory on four of its first six possessions.
Georgia again played without suspended defensive starters Bacarri Rambo at safety and Alec Olegree at linebacker.
SEC sack leader Jarvis Jones was a game captain for the coin toss, but was held out with a strained groin and bruised shoulder.
When Florida Atlantic’s Damian Fortner went 43 yards for a touchdown after running through a big hole in the middle of Georgia’s defense, there were some boos among the sold-out crowd.
A 48-yard pass set up a two-yard touchdown pass from Graham Wilbert (18 of 33 for 183 yards, 1 TD, I INT) to Nexon Dorvilus and the game was tied at 14 with 12:19 left in the first half.
With starting offensive guard Dallas Lee on the sideline with a left ankle injury, Georgia went to the ground on all eight plays of a 67-yard drive. Keith Marshall picked up 57 yards on five carries, including runs of 28 and 17 yards. Murray 1-yard quarterback sneak made it 21-14.
Then Murray (14 of 19 for career-high 342 yards with two TD passes, 1 INT, two rushing TDs) hit Michael Bennett (4 catches, career-high 110 yards) for a 67-yard touchdown with 1:34 left in half. Murray was hit as he unloaded the pass. Murray also added a pair of touchdowns on 1-yard quarterback keepers.
Bennett’s sixth career touchdown was easily the longest catch of his career. His previous high was 27 yards.
Any thoughts of a Louisiana Monroe-type upset of Arkansas or even a real scare like the 31-28 overtime win Auburn had over Monroe earlier Saturday ended on the opening drive of the second half when tight end Arthur Lynch scored his first touchdown as a Bulldog on a 36-yard score. Gurley added a 38-yard touchdown run to make it 42-14.
Murray banged his helmet on his leg on the sideline after throwing an interception in the end zone, but Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera made up for it on the next play with a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Two hours before kickoff, some Florida Atlantic players walked onto the field and took pictures of Sanford Stadium.
The Owls (1-2) weren’t just going to be happy to pick up the $1 million payout for the game.
Florida Atlantic converted three straight third down passes, but fumbled on a fourth try on a completion.
Georgia linebacker Chase Vasser forced the turnover and Malcolm Mitchell recovered.
Georgia drove 71 yards—all but 17 on the ground—to go ahead on a 1-yard keeper by Murray. The drive included a 24-yard reverse to Rantavious Wooten and a 21-yard run by Gurley.
Georgia in the first half looked like it was missing three of its best defensive players. The Bulldogs led 28-14 at halftime, but the defense didn’t give up another point the rest of the game. Florida Atlantic’s final score came off an interception off backup quarterback Christian LeMay.