GAINESVILLE — Gators linebacker Dante Fowler was held mostly in check during Florida's first two games this season, but the former Lakewood High standout had a memorable performance Saturday against Tennessee.
Fowler, a sophomore, forced the first two fumbles of his college career and recorded a sack for a loss of 15 yards among his three solo tackles during the No. 19 Gators' 31-17 win at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
"We try to put him in situations where we can create some one-on-ones for him," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "We just tell him, 'You need to earn your scholarship when you get in those one-on-ones.' So he'll win a lot of those battles. He's a very physical player. Change of direction, explosive guy. Got good instincts in the pass rush."
Fowler was dominant on the edge against a Tennessee offensive line returning four starters from last year's unit. The Gators defense held the Vols to 220 yards total offense.
After a special teams error by Florida punter Kyle Christy early in the first quarter, Fowler bailed out the Gators two plays later.
On second and 8 at Florida's 15-yard line, Vols quarterback Nathan Peterman handed the ball to running back Rajion Neal. But during the play, the 6-foot-3, 266-pound Fowler blazed past right tackle Ja'Wuan James, met Neal behind the line of scrimmage, ripped the ball out of his hands and recovered the fumble.
"When I got to sit down and actually realize it, I was like, 'That was cool.' I was like, 'That's what's up,' " Fowler said.
"Just being able to beat those type of offensive tackles — in my opinion, I think those were the best offensive linemen in the SEC — just being able to go up against some guys I played well against, I feel good."
Fowler's second impact play of the afternoon came with 3:24 left in the first quarter. On a blitz call, Fowler sacked Peterman and forced the redshirt freshman to cough up the ball. Florida linebacker Michael Taylor recovered it at the Tennessee 6-yard line, but the Gators had to settle for an Austin Harden 23-yard field goal.
"It's really fun, because you know that you're making plays and you're doing the right things and stuff like that," Fowler said. "You don't want to mess up. It kind of takes the momentum away from you."
Defensive tackle Dominique Easley said: "(Fowler) didn't stop the whole game. He just kept going, kept going, kept going. He played like himself."