- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORIDA ATLANTIC AT NO. 7 GEORGIA
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Sanford Stadium/Athens, Ga.
Records: Georgia 2-0 (1-0 SEC), Florida Atlantic 1-1 (0-1 Sun Belt)
Last week: Georgia beat Missouri 41-20. Florida Atlantic lost, 31-17, to Middle Tennessee.
What’s the story? This weekend’s non-conference game against a Florida Atlantic team that won just one game last season is Georgia’s final tuneup before diving into the bulk of its SEC schedule. The Bulldogs are heavy favorites today and their starters should be watching from the sidelines for most of the second half -- which is a good thing since they will face conference opponents in each of the next seven games.
1. Look who’s back: Georgia’s defense takes another step back toward full strength this week with cornerback Sanders Commings and outside linebacker Chase Vasser’s return from two-game suspensions. The Bulldogs are excited about the defense’s capabilities once safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree join them on the active roster following suspensions of their own.
2. Owls to the slaughter: Florida Atlantic, which defeated Wagner 7-3 in its opener and lost 31-17 at Middle Tennessee a week ago, now has the pleasure of playing Georgia and defending BCS champion Alabama in consecutive weeks. Georgia is a six-touchdown favorite this week and the point spread will probably be even bigger when the Owls visit Tuscaloosa next Saturday.
3. Ready for Russ: Everyone’s favorite interim mascot, Russ the English bulldog, will finally be coronated as Uga IX during a pregame ceremony. Russ has served as Georgia’s sideline mascot at points since 2009, posting a 16-9 record while wearing the collar.
Players to watch:
1. Commings: Commings’ return should help alleviate some of Georgia’s concerns in the secondary. He started 23 games over the previous two seasons at cornerback, but can also play safety -- and he probably will until Rambo is back on the field.
2. Keith Marshall: While Todd Gurley has already made his way onto highlight reels with several big plays in the first two games, fellow true freshman tailback Marshall hasn’t broken out yet. He’ll get his chance Saturday against FAU’s porous run defense.
3. John Theus: The true freshman right tackle struggled in the first half against Missouri, but settled down after halftime. It will be important for him to continue to develop confidence with the level of difficulty about to increase steadily in the next few weeks.
1. Graham Wilbert: Although Florida Atlantic’s offense has struggled to score (12 ppg), its quarterback has thrown the ball fairly well to this point. Wilbert has completed 35 of 45 passes for 386 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
2. Travis Jones: The junior running back should get the ball in a variety of ways against Georgia. He leads the team with nine receptions, has rushed nine times and has returned four kickoffs and one punt. He had six catches for 55 yards last week against Middle Tennessee.
3. David Hinds: Count on hearing Hinds’ name a lot on Saturday. The senior linebacker has made 10 or more tackles in both of the Owls’ games and leads the Sun Belt Conference with 21 tackles thus far.
Georgia’s offensive line vs. FAU’s defensive front
Florida Atlantic ranks 97th nationally against the run, allowing 215.5 rushing yards per game, so Georgia should have its way on the ground. Theus and other members of Georgia’s offensive line struggled early against Missouri, but had a better second half and should be able to impose its will against the overmatched Owls.
By the Numbers
1. 3-0. Georgia is in search of its first 3-0 start in four years. The 2008 Bulldogs started the season as the nation’s No. 1 team and won their first four games before Alabama visited in Week 5 and beat them 41-30.
2. 2-for-2. Gurley was responsible for Georgia’s longest play in each of the first two games. He became just the second player in program history to return a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the opener against Buffalo and had a 44-yard run last week against Missouri.
3. 0-6. Florida Atlantic is 0-4 against SEC teams all-time. The Owls have lost to Florida (twice), South Carolina (twice), Auburn and Kentucky by a combined 258-76 margin. However, they did keep it close against Auburn last year, falling 30-14.
On Deck: Georgia returns to SEC East play next Saturday night when Vanderbilt visits Athens. It will be a rematch of a testy contest from last season that ended with a shouting match between Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Commodores head coach James Franklin and left a player from each side suspended for the next week’s game.