FAU running back Damian Fortner heads for the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown run in the first quarter Saturday. (Owl Access Photo by Ralph Landau)
Florida Atlantic hangs with No. 7 Georgia in the first half before the Bulldogs turn it on during the second half and roll to a 56-20 victory over the Owls.
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For the first half of Saturday’s game against Georgia, Florida Atlantic looked poised for a possible upset over the No. 7-ranked Bulldogs.
Those hopes were dashed in the second half when failed execution on behalf of the Owls and a stellar performance by Georgia’s offense led to a 56-20 loss at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.
"I think we can execute at a high level every week, but you have to remember where we are,” said Owls coach Carl Pelini. “We only have so many bullets in the gun. We were still executing and blocking late in the game, and I think we can use this to improve.”
The Graham Wilbert-led offense was impressive in the first half hanging in with the likes of the nationally-ranked Bulldogs (3-0).
Wilbert, who made some great throws down the field, led the Owls on a pair of big scoring drives in the first half. Running back Damian Fortner got the Owls on the board with a 43-yard touchdown run up the middle of the field to tie the game at 7-7.
After linebacker David Hinds forced a Georgia fumble, which was recovered by safety Jeremy McKnight, Wilbert led the Owls on an 87-yard drive that ended in a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nexon Dorvilus to tie the game for the second time. The touchdown was set up by a 48-yard completion to receiver William Dukes, who was carted off the field with a right leg injury in the fourth quarter.
"The first half was fun. We were in this game,” said Fortner, who had 81 rushing yards on 14 carries. “We were executing and doing our thing. You never come into a game expecting to lose. Georgia is a good team but we came to play and we're not happy coming away with a loss."
While trailing 28-14 at halftime the game was still very much in reach for FAU (1-2, 0-1 Sun Belt).
The second half didn’t prove as promising.
Despite their success in the first half, the Owls offense was held scoreless in the second half and the Bulldogs continued to add to their lead, which led to an ugly half for FAU.
"We came out pretty sharp in the first half, and we really played well against a good SEC team,” said Wilbert, who finished 18 of 33 for 183 yards and a touchdown and interception. “But the second half was a completely different ballgame. We didn't execute as well as we did in the first half, and we just didn't get it done."
From the very start the Owls defense struggled to stop a potent Georgia offense that racked up 713 yards of total offense, the most yards allowed by the Owls in school history. The defense did force four turnovers, including a 42-yard interception return touchdown by Adarius Glanton of Bulldogs’ back-up quarterback Christian LeMay in the fourth quarter.
Despite the atmosphere of Saturday’s game, Pelini insisted that the environment didn’t have an effect on the game.
“We have to prepare every week like it's the biggest game of the year, otherwise you have peaks and valleys,” he said. “I think we will get better and I am optimistic that we can continue to improve as we go through the rest of the season."
Notes: Wide receiver William Dukes and quarterback quarterback Stephen Curtis left the game with what appered to be leg injuries. ...Defensive tackle Brandin Bryant, defensive back Cre'von Leblanc and running back Jonathan Wallace all made the first starts of their careers.
GameBrowser: No. 7 Georgia 56, FAU 20
The Owls were hanging in with the No. 7-ranked Bulldogs headed into the second half, down by a pair of touchdowns, but the Georgia offense deflated any momentum FAU had going into halftime with a 67-yard drive on the first series of the second half. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who had 342 yards passing on the night, found tight end Arthur Lynch for a 36-yard touchdown to put the Bulldogs up by 21.
- The road doesn’t get any easier for the Owls, who face No. 1-ranked Alabama next Saturday and are staring down a 1-3 start to the season.
- The Owls did a good job of hanging in with No. 7-ranked Georgia in the first half. But there are two halves to a football game.
- Quarterback Graham Wilbert lit it up in the first half, connecting on deep balls, converting key third downs and really executing the offense well. Unfortunately the offense failed to continue that success in the second half.
713: Total yards of offense by the Bulldogs, a school record.
98: Receiving yards for William Dukes.
2: Turnovers vs. the Bulldogs, who had four turnovers of their own.
FAU faces its toughest challenge in the program’s history when it takes on No. 1 Alabama next Saturday. The Crimson Tide are 3-0, after shutting out Arkansas 52-0 on Saturday.