Florida falls to Georgia, loses ground in SEC East race

By Joe Morgan

JACKSONVILLE — On Saturday, Florida finally broke.

The Gators had struck a perilous balance in 2012. UF rode big plays, good defense and a one-dimensional offense to the No. 2 ranking in the BCS standings and the brink of a Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title.

However, six turnovers, a stagnant offense and yet another slow start were too much for Florida (7-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) to overcome in a 17-9 loss to Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) on Saturday at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.

“I’ve said all season long we’re not a team that has a lot of margin for error,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “Six turnovers — wow. That’s tough to overcome.”

Now, instead of pressing onward in the national championship race, the Gators will need a little help just to play for the SEC title. Florida must defeat Missouri and then hope Georgia slips up against either Ole Miss or Auburn.

In just one week’s time, UF slipped from the driver’s seat to the back seat. From “Florida never breaks” to “Hotty Toddy” and “War Eagle.”

“It just comes down to the basics, we’ve got to work on it in practice,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “Football is about taking care of the ball, and we didn’t do that tonight. When you have six turnovers, it’s hard to win any game.”

The football was not the only thing Florida lost a grip on during Saturday’s game. Tempers flared between the Gators and the Bulldogs early and often.

A pregame scuffle between the teams became so heated, even Florida strength coach Jeff Dillman got involved, yelling at Georgia players and coaches.

Overall, UF racked up 10 penalties for 95 yards. The Gators and the Bulldogs were flagged four times for unsportsmanlike conduct and five times for personal fouls.

“There was a lot of penalties,” Jon Bostic said. “Some of them we couldn’t control. Some of them we definitely could control. We got to play better in those areas.”

Despite numerous mistakes and a slow start, Florida still had several chances to escape with a victory. How the Gators failed to seize opportunistic moments proved critical and heartbreaking.

Facing second and 6 from Georgia’s 18-yard line, Driskel hit tight end Jordan Reed over the middle for a 13-yard gain with more than two minutes remaining in regulation.

As the play neared completion, Reed jumped from the 5 and attempted to break the plane of the goal line for a touchdown.

While airborne, Reed took a hit from Jarvis Jones and fumbled, losing a grip both on the ball and Florida’s control of the SEC East race. The Gators could not recover.

“It wasn’t one play that lost the game for us,” Jon Halapio said. “It was a team effort. There was no plays here or there that could have definitely taken us out of the situation that we were in during the fourth quarter.”

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