GAINESVILLE — On the first snap of the second half, in a game tighter than it should have been, Ronald Powell broke through.
Powell, a Florida sophomore linebacker/defensive end, rushed off the left edge. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray rolled out, trying to avoid the heat.
Powell kept coming, so Bray took a step back and let the ball fly. Gators safety Josh Evans then watched the ball fall safely into his hands.
With UF up 16-7, coach Will Muschamp greeted Powell as he walked off the field, wrapping his arm around his player's helmet to give him a message.
"I want these guys to play well; I play through them," Muschamp said. "When you see a guy finally … get the pressure, get the caused interception, I'm excited for him."
Powell had been criticized by Muschamp and coordinator Dan Quinn for not pressuring the quarterback enough. While Muschamp's message was about pride for one specific player, the coach could have been talking about his entire defensive line.
In wins over Florida Atlantic and UAB, the Gators had two sacks total. But in Saturday's 33-23 victory, they finished with three sacks and six pressures, and two defensive linemen swatted passes at the line of scrimmage.
"We came out playing with a chip on our shoulder, knowing that we dictate the outcome of the game," said defensive tackle Jaye Howard, who had four tackles and combined with Powell on a sack. "People were doubting us, looking over us. We're playing with the best of them right now."
Florida's improved pass rush was key because of its opponent: Bray entered the game first in the SEC with 698 passing yards and seven touchdowns.
Against UF, Bray went 26-of-48 for 288 yards and three touchdowns, but he was forced into two interceptions, a number that would have been higher if four potential picks weren't dropped and another one wasn't called back on an interference call.
The Gators received an emotional boost from the return of sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who was suspended for two games after the NCAA ruled he received impermissible benefits as a recruit. Floyd said it felt good getting back on the field, even better getting pressure.
"That's what a defensive lineman wants; we want to hit the quarterback, the pretty boys, the you-can't-touch-me guys," he said. "That's what defensive linemen want; we want quarterbacks."