GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- As good a job as Will Muschamp had done keeping his Florida team grounded during its surprising run of seven straight wins to start the season, now comes the challenge of soldiering on following Saturday's crushing 17-9 loss to Georgia.
The Gators (7-1, 6-1), who dropped from third to eighth in the Associated Press rankings Sunday, could have clinched the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title. Instead, they lost control of their league fate and hope the Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1) stumble against either Ole Miss Saturday or Auburn the following the weekend.
For UF, which wraps up its SEC slate Saturday at home against Missouri (4-4, 1-4), it's about one loss not becoming two.
"That's what I told the team in the locker room. You won together, now we'll find out how you handle adversity," Muschamp said in his post-game news conference. "We got a bunch of down guys in there and I totally understand it, but we've got to regroup here. ... We need to push through this. No question. there's a lot of football to play."
While this week's preparation will focus on the Tigers and their wide-open spread offense, the Gators will turn plenty of attention toward themselves and self-evaluate how a team that put such a premium on taking care of the football -- four turnovers in seven games -- used the biggest day of the year to be reckless enough with the ball for three or four games worth of mistakes.
Six turnovers (three in each half).
"We just got to put this behind us and move on," offensive guard Jon Halapio said.
"Anytime you lose, you're not going to be happy," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "This was just a bigger loss. A huge loss. We knew what was at stake. We knew if we handled our business, our goals were in front of us."
Those goals have now been adjusted and the new ones -- and there good ones out there still -- are in front of them.
GATORS RALLY AROUND REED
Jordan Reed may very well be the best player on the UF offense.
Maybe even the whole Florida team.
That's why his late-game fumble on the 1-yard line -- forced by Georgia All-World linebacker Jarvis Jones as Reed tried to vault into the end zone after a 13-yard catch and run -- was an even more crushing blow to the Gators.
"I thought he was going in for the touchdown," senior safety Josh Evans said. Who didn't feel for Reed (other than Bulldogs fans, of course) in the play's aftermath when TV cameras showed him near tears on the UF sideline?
Reed had five catches for 74 yards against Georgia and leads the Gators in receptions (30), yards (354) and touchdowns (3, along with Frankie Hammond).
"I'll take in the open Jordan Reed in the open field any day," Driskel said. "When I saw him make the first guy miss, I thought he was going to score. He just didn't take care of the ball; just like the whole team all night."
Senior PK Caleb Sturgis, who went 3-for-3 on field goals Saturday, became the third UF player to score 300 points in a career.
The kick that put him over the milestone was a 50-yarder -- the team's lone points of the second half -- and gave Sturgis eight kicks beyond 50 yards for his career, the most ever by a Florida kicker.
He now has 302 points and trails only PK Jeff Chandler (368) and QB Tim Tebow (342) on the Gators all-time scoring list.
Sturgis has 62 career field goals, which is six field goals shy of tying Chandler's school-record of 67.
After cleaning the flags up the last few weeks, penalties again reared themselves at the worst time for the Gators, who were hit with 10 for 95 yards, including a wrenching defensive holding call against Dominique Easley after UF thought it had a third-and-10 stop in the fourth quarter.
Five plays later, Aaron Murray hit Malcolm Mitchell for a 45-yard touchdown to turn a one-point game into an eight-point game.
UF's defense had three other penalties, all major infractions, including an unsportsmanlike conduct against Jaylen Watkins for taunting after a nice third-down pass breakup.
"We had to be sound, we had to be smart," nose guard Omar Hunter said. "Whether it was offsides or personal fouls, we just had to play smarter football."
Wide receiver Solomon Patton suffered a broken right arm in the first quarter.
On fourth and 1 from the Georgia 36, the Gators chose to bring Patton around for his trademark jet sweep (10.8 average on 13 attempts this season), but the Bulldogs chased him wide and slammed him to the turf just short of the sticks.
Patton, the junior from Mobile, Ala., hit the ground awkwardly on the play and had to be helped to the locker room. His status will be determined this week.
Linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who missed three games with a broken hand, left Saturday's game with a hamstring tweak, but Mushamp said he thought the junior would be all right.
Backup defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (hamstring) did not make the trip to Jacksonville.
QUOTES OF NOTE
"No. We lost."-- Muschamp on whether a defense that held Georgia to 273 total yards, forced three turnovers and limited the Bulldogs to 1-for-10 on third-down conversions played well.
"I had a great game, but it's about what we did as a defense. All of us did what we came here to do. We beat the No.  team in the nation and it's a great feeling."
--Jones, who in his last two games against the Gators has 7 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles.
"I made some critical mistakes, that's what it came down to. When you have a defense like we have, you can't force things."
-- Driskel, who went into the game with just two turnovers (one fumble, one interception) all season, but had four against the Dawgs (two fumbles, two interceptions).
"It's easy for you and me to talk about it. Try doing it in front of 90,000 people and 300-pounders chasing you. Gotta make a better decision."
--Muschamp on Driskel's interception on the final play of the half.
ETC.Florida went to its Wildcat formation, with Trey Burton at quarterback, five times Saturday. The Bulldogs clearly were ready for it. On those five plays, UF gained three yards, with Burton fumbling the ball away once. ... The Gators failed to score a touchdown in their series with Georgia for the first time since 1988, a 26-3 loss. .. UF is now 3-1 vs ranked opponents this season. Gators were 0-5 last season. ... Linebacker Neiron Ball's interception in the first half was the first of his career. ... ... Florida's defense had its first three-interception game since 2009 and now has 11 picks for the season after nabbing just eight in all of 2011.