GAINESVILLE -- Will Muschamp knew it was only a matter of time before it all came crumbling down.
Sure, the undefeated Florida Gators had built an impressive résumé coming into Saturday’s rivalry game with Georgia. They had beaten two top-10 teams in their past three games and were billed as the second-best team in the nation according to the Bowl Championship Series standings.
But the Gators were living on a cracked foundation.
“I’ve said all season long we’re not a team that has a lot of margin for error,” Muschamp said following Saturday’s 17-9 loss that took Florida (7-1, 6-1 SEC) out of the driver’s seat for a trip to Atlanta for the conference championship game.
The Bulldogs spent 60 minutes loading the box and forcing Jeff Driskel to beat them with his arm, and in the process exposed the flaws that an unblemished record and dominant defense helped to mask.
But even the nation’s fourth-ranked scoring defense could not prevent a loss when Driskel and the offense turned the ball over six times.
“We’re just not quite explosive enough offensively to overcome — against any team — six turnovers,” Muschamp said. “That’s the end of the game in my opinion: six turnovers.”
Said Driskel: “When you have a defense like we do, you can’t turn the ball over. … There’s never going to be the perfect picture in front of you, but we’re going to have to look at ourselves in the mirror and tighten some things up this week and go out next week and have a big game.”
Unfortunately for Driskel and the Gators, it’s not exactly that simple now.
With the loss, Florida no longer can win out to win the East. Even if the Gators are able to beat Missouri this Saturday, Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) will hold the tiebreaker should it win its two remaining SEC games against Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2) and Auburn (1-7, 0-6).
Players said the loss to the Bulldogs was especially painful because they knew what was on the line — they knew, as Driskel said, “if we handled our business that our goals were in front of us.”
“We’re disappointed about this game. It would have solidified everything and made it a little bit easier for us,” right guard Jon Halapio said. “But we can’t dwell on it. We’ve just got to watch film on it, see what we did wrong and just move on to Missouri.”
While this October ended just like the last — a deflating loss to debatably the team’s biggest rival in a game the Gators felt they could have won — Halapio said there is a discernible difference in the atmosphere in the locker room and the outlook moving forward.
“The difference between this year’s team and last year’s team is that we’re not pointing fingers at each other. We’re pulling together,” he said. “We’re all in this together. If we lose a football game, we lost together. It wasn’t one particular person.”