APSU Sports Information
Clarksville, TN – An argument can be made the Georgia team Austin Peay State University faced on the gridiron Saturday is the most talented team the program has ever faced.
What an incredible opportunity for new experiences and teaching moments that trip to Athens provided the members of the Governor football team.
Ranking teams and comparing them year over year is a bit of a subjective business; however, Georgia, ranked No. 3 in the AP poll last week, is the highest-ranked FBS opponent The Governors have ever played.
The one team the Govs have faced that might stack up talent-wise is the 2010 Wisconsin squad they played September 25th that year, who ranked No. 10 at the time. That team finished the year 11-2 with a narrow loss in the Rose Bowl. It nearly boasted three 1,000-yard rushers, as James White (1,052 yards), John Clay (1,012 yards) and Montee Ball (996) yards pounded opponents all season.
But Georgia is coming off a season in which it went 13-2, won the SEC Championship, the Rose Bowl in a thriller against Oklahoma and never trailed in the College Football Playoff National Championship until the final play of overtime. Sure, the Bulldogs have to replace Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at running back, but youngsters D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield look up to the task to have big seasons in 2018.
The Georgia defense also looks poised to pick up where it left off last year, limiting opponents to 16.4 points and less than 300 yards of offense per game in 2017.
So how does facing a team of Georgia’s caliber help prepare the Governors going forward as they ratchet up for FCS play?
“It really gives you a good measure of where you are,” offensive tackle Kyle Anderton said. “I think we needed this, we needed to face one of the best teams in the country because that’s what we want to be.
“Now we know the best teams in the country don’t make mistakes and that they do their assignments. That’s what we have to take away from this so it helps us understand how to play like one of the best teams in the country.”
The Govs’ defense came out of the locker room at halftime and began to shut down the Bulldogs’ offensive attack, allowing just one touchdown in the final two quarters. The team forced its first turnover of the season, as defensive end Shaun Whittinghill recovered a fumble as the Bulldogs were about to enter the red zone.
Senior linebacker Gunnar Scholato, who tied for the team lead with seven total tackles against Georgia, is ready to take a look at the film from the game, learn from it and move on to the next one.
Playing in front of a crowd of 92,746 people is not a regular occurrence for the Govs: it is the kind of moment college football players dream about, but not all get to be a part of. The Govs did just that on Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium.
For head coach Will Healy, the trip was about more than just playing in front of a huge crowd in a storied venue against a top-notch opponent to a national audience on ESPN. It was about the experiences the student-athletes, coaches and staff had leading up to the season opener.
The team stopped by the College Football Hall of Fame on its way to Athens, where the players got a chance to see the history of the sport, participate in interactive games and pretend they were on the set of ESPN’s College Game Day.
The Govs spent the night at Chateau Elan outside of Athens, a resort-style hotel not the norm on road trips for Austin Peay.
“It was an incredible trip,” Healy said. “For us to be able to give these kids that type of experience means a lot. The whole last three days have been amazing. The University of Georgia does it the right way and they were awesome to us.
“It was an incredible weekend that I know our kids will remember for a long time. It’s a special place to play a football game: obviously it’s one of the best environments to play college football.”
As soon as room keys were distributed, a number of the players immediately hit the huge pool at the Chateau. While speaking to a group of donors, alumni and fans on Friday evening, Healy joked about how it looked like a bunch of kids had been playing in the pool all afternoon when the team left to go eat dinner.
He told them, “Act like you’ve been here before,” to which one of the players replied, “But Coach, we haven’t been here before.”
“The hotel – I’m so thankful for (Director of Football Operations) Carter Crutchfield and Coach Healy for doing those things for us,” Anderton said. “I just can’t thank them enough. It’s so cool because lot of guys didn’t get to experience that before; I transferred from the SEC so I kind of feel some of that.
“I’m really glad our team got a chance to travel, got to play hard, did those things; but at the end of the day, I want to win a game, I want to win a ring.”
The quest to make the first FCS Playoff appearance in school history continues with the team’s home opener 6:00pm Saturday, September 8th at Fortera Stadium when the Govs host Presbyterian.
They enter the game with the learning experiences of facing arguably the best opponent in school history, and they’ve come closer together as a team after an eventful trip to Athens.