ATHENS, Ga. -- For a half, Georgia Southern's running game gave Georgia every bit as much trouble as one might expect in defending a tricky option offense that is drastically different from anything the Bulldogs have seen to this point.
Todd Grantham's defense put its foot down in the third quarter, however, and the Bulldogs turned a tight game into a 45-14 rout that will come in handy next Saturday against Georgia Tech (6-5) and its highly similar flexbone attack.
"Seeing it live in full speed in a game right before playing Tech, it definitely helps us," Georgia cornerback Sanders Commings said. "Our scout team offense can only simulate it so well. They do a great job, but seeing it live from an offense where that's what they do every week, it will definitely benefit us."
Yes, Georgia Southern (8-3) is a lower-division team, but it possesses the most effective rushing attack in the FCS with an average of 401.2 yards per game entering Saturday's visit to Sanford Stadium. The Eagles rolled up an unsightly 302 rushing yards on 58 carries against the fifth-ranked Bulldogs (10-1) on Saturday, but that number hardly tells an accurate story.
The Eagles rushed for 149 yards in the first half and trailed just 17-7 at halftime after Georgia scored on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Murray to Malcolm Mitchell with four seconds left in the second quarter. But the Bulldogs began to get a handle on the Eagles' option game in the third quarter and removed any thoughts of an Appalachian State-Michigan-style upset.
The Bulldogs limited the Eagles to 31 rushing yards on 12 carries in the third quarter, resulting in three punts and a lost fumble by fullback Dominique Swope. Meanwhile, Murray directed three touchdown drives in the quarter -- scoring on two passes to Chris Conley and one to Tavarres King -- and suddenly the 17-7 advantage had grown to 38-7.
"I think [Grantham] got a good handle on what they were going to do and he was able to give us some calls and basically we came out in the second half and we were able to just stone them," said linebacker Alec Ogletree, who led Georgia with 12 tackles, one tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery.
His fellow inside linebacker Christian Robinson played a key role in that improvement. He made a pair of key first-down tackles -- stopping one run for a 1-yard gain and one for a 4-yard loss -- that caused Georgia Southern to start two drives slowly, which is detrimental to an option offense.
Georgia Southern rushed for 122 yards in the fourth quarter once the game was out of reach, including all 81 yards of a scoring drive that produced the Eagles' only second-half points. But otherwise, Grantham was pleased with the way his Bulldogs fared in Round 1 of defending the flexbone.
"I thought we did a pretty good job to hold this team to 14 points, but really that last drive that they scored on, the game was pretty much in hand," Grantham said. "I thought we lost our edge a little bit there and that's one thing. You've got to play with an edge all the time against this stuff, and if you do that, you're fine, which I thought we did for the most part of the game.
"I'm pretty pleased with what we did. We've just got to look at the tape, make some corrections on some things, get some fits cleaned up and be ready to play next week, too."