JACKSONVILLE — The realization quickly set in as the dejected Gators gathered in the locker room Saturday night: Now is when they will find out what they're made of.
No. 3 and undefeated Florida stumbled, struggled and made uncharacteristic mistakes that led to a 17-9 loss to No. 12 Georgia in front of 84,644 at EverBank Field.
It was Georgia's second straight win in the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" and the first time since 1988 (26-3) the Gators lost to the Bulldogs without scoring a touchdown.
Instead of earning their first SEC East title since 2009, the Gators' fate now rests in the hands of Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC). The Gators (7-1, 6-1) need a win over Missouri in their final conference game this week and a Georgia loss to Ole Miss or Auburn to reach the SEC title game.
Also gone will be the No. 2 ranking in the BCS standings.
What's left is four games and many questions about where this team goes from here.
"I told the team in the locker room: 'You've won well together. Now we'll find out how you handle adversity as a football team,' " Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "We've done that very well in my time. We've got a bunch of down guys in the locker room, and I totally understand that. But we've got to regroup here.
"We have good leadership on our football team, and I think we'll be fine. We just need to push through this. There's no question there's a lot of football to play. Very disappointed with the outcome of the game but not disappointed with the effort. We've got to move forward."
Despite all of its mistakes, Florida was in the game until the final two minutes. When junior tight end Jordan Reed caught a pass from sophomore Jeff Driskel and ran toward the end zone, the team that had come from behind in five of its seven games seemed poised to do it again.
But as Reed leaped toward the end zone, linebacker Jarvis Jones knocked the ball loose at the 5 and cornerback Sanders Commings recovered with 2:05 left, sealing Georgia's win.
Reed was in tears after the game, but his teammates rushed to his defense.
"He wasn't the only one that had tears in his eyes. Everybody had tears," junior right guard Jon Halapio said. "Everybody was disappointed. But the biggest difference between this team and last year's team is that we're actually pulling together during this adversity.
"We're not pointing fingers at each other. We're not blaming this person for losing the game. It wasn't one play that lost the game for us."
It was, as linebacker Jon Bostic said, "just not meant to be" for the Gators. Florida entered the game with four turnovers all season, then committed six against Georgia. Driskel was 14-of-26 for 185 yards but had two interceptions and two fumbles that led to 10 points for the Bulldogs.
Yet the Gators were never more than one touchdown from the lead until late in the game. With Georgia leading 10-9, Aaron Murray threw a 5-yard pass to Malcolm Mitchell that was ruled incomplete. The play was overturned upon review. On the next play, Murray connected with Mitchell for a 45-yard touchdown with 7:11 remaining.
Georgia held the Gators to 266 total yards and Jones, who had four sacks in last year's 24-20 win, finished with 13 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Now the challenge of moving on begins for Florida, which saw its eight-game winning streak, dating to the Gator Bowl in January, snapped.
"The game of football is about overcoming adversity," Driskel said. "You're going to have tough times. It's never going to be that perfect picture in front of you. We're going to have to look at ourselves in the mirror and tighten things up this week and go out next week and play a good game."