FAU hangs tight with No. 7 Georgia in first half, fall 56-20

Mohamed Abdihakim

Owls wide receiver William Dukes had a career-high 98 receiving yards in the 56-20 loss to Georgia. Dukes barely missed out on a touchdown, as his 48-yard third down reception set the Owls up at the 1-yard line. Photo courtesy of Media Relations. Photo courtesy of Media Relations.

The Owls stayed close with No. 7 Georgia for a half, but eventually fell 56-20 in front of a sellout 92,746 crowd at Sanford Stadium.

Deep into the first half, the Owls were tied at 14 with the Bulldogs before Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray’s 67-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Bennett put the game away for good.

“They didn’t pack their bags and go home,” Owls defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis said to ESPN 760 of FAU’s effort. “They stayed and fought for 60 minutes, and we hope there’s something to build on when we get back and evaluate the film.”

In the first quarter, FAU running back Damian Fortner broke through the Georgia defense untouched for a 43-yard touchdown to tie the game at seven in the first quarter. Fortner finished with 81 yards on 14 carries.

The Owls continued to carry momentum in the second quarter. After another Georgia touchdown, Owls quarterback Graham Wilbert led FAU to a seven-play, 87-yard scoring drive, connecting with Nexon Dorvilus on a 2-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14 early in the second quarter.

Wilbert connected on 11 of his first 16 pass attempts. FAU converted eight of its first 12 third down attempts.

In the first half, FAU amassed 263 total offensive yards, dispelling any notions that FAU wasn’t going to compete in a game that Georgia paid them $1 million.

Things started to unravel for the Owls toward the end of the first half. Georgia collected two more touchdowns to end the first half, one coming off of a rush by Murray, and the other on the 67-yard pass to Bennett.

“Doesn’t throw a bad ball,” Rekstis said of Murray. “Very poised in the pocket. Gets his team into the right place.”

The second half was far less competitive.

With 12:06 left in the third quarter, Georgia sensed the weakness in FAU’s defensive line. The Bulldogs scored their first touchdown of the second half on a five-play drive, with Todd Gurley breaking off for the 38-yard score.

The only score of the second half for FAU came on a pick-six by linebacker Adarius Glanton (making his first start of the season) in the fourth quarter to bring the Owls within 56-20 with 11:37 to go.

Owls tight end Nexon Dorvilus grabs a 2-yard touchdown pass from Graham Wilbert to tie Georgia at 14 in the second quarter. Dorvilus finished with three catches for 16 yards. Photo courtesy of Media Relations.

“Adarius got better as the game went along. We gave him a couple blows in there. He was pretty excited,” Rekstis said. “Probably overran a few things, but we settled down and had that big pick for a touchdown late in the game.”

On the following play, FAU muffed the snap, missing the chance to tack on the extra point.

With 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Georgia had already broken a school record with 702 yards of total offense.

“Discipline. It’s been something that coach [Carl] Pelini’s brought since day one. You’re never going to be good on defense if you’re not disciplined,” Rekstis said. “For us it starts with our eyes. We’ve got to put our eyes in the right place, and then believe what we see. Problem is, we put our eyes in the wrong place, and it puts us in a bad situation.”

Wilbert regressed after a strong first half (163 yard, two touchdowns). He was intercepted by Georgia’s Amarlo Herrera, who returned his pass for a touchdown to make it 48-14 with 4:20 left in the third quarter.

Wilbert finished the night 18-33 for 183 yards.

FAU was competitive early on, but was eventually overtaken by the combination of physical play from the Georgia defense (limiting FAU to 138 rushing yards from starting running backs) and a balanced offense (326 yards rushing, 385 yards passing).

Owls wide receiver William Dukes had five receptions for 98 yards. Rekstis was still proud of the Owls, despite the lopsided final score.

“If you can play here, and you can play against certainly one of the top teams in the South East Conference, why can’t you go and compete and be a real good football player down the road?” Rekstis asked. “Our guys will be better for it.”

FAU plays at top ranked Alabama on Saturday, Sept. 22, at 5 p.m. at Bryant-Denny Stadium.