Dogs look to limit turnovers: Protecting the ball will be crucial for Georgia against Florida

photo Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson recovers a fumble by Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.

ATHENS, Ga. - Perhaps the 25th time will be the charm.

Georgia has not played a turnover-free game against Florida since 1987, when the Bulldogs defeated the Gators 23-10 in Vince Dooley's next-to-last season as coach. The Bulldogs have topped Florida only six times since, including three wins in 11 tries under current coach Mark Richt, with turnovers often the primary reason for their undoing.

"We definitely need to take care of the ball," Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said this week. "Coach Richt has looked back, and these games really have been decided by turnovers."

Georgia has committed an astounding 20 turnovers against Florida during the past six series meetings, compared to just seven given up by the Gators. The Bulldogs suffered four turnovers in each of the games from 2008 to '10, with Murray throwing three interceptions in a 34-31 overtime loss two years ago.

Matthew Stafford was the No. 1 pick in the '09 NFL draft, but he also had a three-interception debacle in a 49-10 loss to the Gators a few months earlier.

"In the games we've really gotten worn out on the scoreboard, we've had a lot of turnovers," Richt said. "Last year, we had some opportunistic plays made where we did get some turnovers that created some momentum for us and helped us win."

It has been a decade since the Georgia-Florida winner lost the turnover margin. Florida prevailed 20-13 in 2002 despite a 4-3 deficit in turnovers, but the Bulldogs produced the biggest gaffe when D.J. Shockley had a pass intercepted by Guss Scott and returned 47 yards for a touchdown.

The chief reason Florida is 7-0 entering Saturday's matchup after being 4-3 this time last season is a reduction in turnovers. The Gators have given away only four possessions after committing 26 turnovers a year ago.

"When you have a defense like we do, you don't have to force anything or feel like you have to score on every play," Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "It's something we emphasized in the offseason."

Florida second-year coach Will Muschamp was asked about the sharp decline this week and said, "You can't just talk about it. You've got to drill it."

The No. 3 Gators have gathered 15 turnovers to boast a ratio (plus-1.57) that ranks among the top-10 nationally, while the No. 12 Bulldogs have been flatlining. Georgia has fumbled five times and thrown five interceptions, and the Bulldogs have gathered five fumbles and five interceptions.

There were no turnovers given or taken in Georgia's 29-24 win at Kentucky last week, and the Bulldogs know collecting any this week will be difficult.

"They're probably not going to turn it over or do anything stupid with the ball, so you've got to get them off the field on third down," inside linebacker Christian Robinson said. "They're going to extend drives and pound the ball. Against LSU, they ran it for a whole series and scored, so we have got to stop the run."

Said cornerback Sanders Commings: "They run the ball like 71 percent of the time, and when they're not putting the ball in the air, they're not giving you a chance to intercept the ball."

Georgia has run the ball 57 percent of the time, and Murray was intercepted in earlier SEC games against Missouri, Tennessee and South Carolina.

"You can't go into the game thinking about it too much," Murray said. "You've got to go out there and play and react and have fun. If you are timid or scared as a quarterback and you try to make a throw, that's when you're inaccurate, and you won't give your guy a chance to make a play.

"You've got to go out there and trust your fundamentals and trust your preparation and just let it loose come game time."

Odds and ends

Despite reports that Abry Jones has undergone ankle surgery and will miss the rest of the regular season, Richt would only say Wednesday that his senior defensive end is out Saturday. ... Sophomore Ray Drew is expected to see his workload increase with Jones sidelined. ... After the Bulldogs worked out for 90 minutes, Richt compared the Gators to last year's LSU team because of their solid defense and patience with running the ball.