Theater of Operations, Florida Gators Season Review: The Safeties, Part One

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 08: Deangelo Peterson #19 of the Louisiana State University Tigers is tackled by Matt Elam #22 of the Florida Gators at Tiger Stadium on October 8, 2011 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

For previous editions of Theater of Operations' Season Review, please see bottom of article.

In my opinion, there was no player more important to the Florida Gators defense than Matt Elam. In fact, I'm pretty sure he was the most valuable player on the entire team. Elam was second on the team in total tackles to Jonathan Bostic, and did pretty much everything else to fill up the boxscore.

Elam ended the year with seventy-eight total tackles (including eleven for a loss) to go along with two forced fumbles, two interceptions and two sacks. His tackles for a loss and forced fumbles led the team. He also recorded seven pass breakups and was even credited with a quarterback hurry.

While his height isn't ideal for a safety -- he's listed at 5'10" -- he more than makes up for it by literally flying to the ball. He was also responsible for what was quite possibly the single greatest moment of the season. Yes, I am indeed talking about his in-bounds to out of bounds pick up and toss to the side smack down of Florida State Seminoles running back Jermaine Thomas.

Play No. 1: Elam breaks up Tennessee's chance at a two-point conversion:

Elam20_medium

(Photo courtesy of GatorVision)

Elam (yellow circle) is defending the inside receiver. He does it very well, but he gets some help.

Elam21_medium

(Photo courtesy of GatorVision)

That help comes via the pass rush. Two players (I think one is Ian Silberman #77 but I'm not sure exactly) break through unblocked until one is taken out at the last possible second, resulting in a throw that Bray needed a little more time to make.

Elam22_medium

(Photo courtesy of GatorVision)

For a tenth of a second, when this screen-cap was taken, it would appear that Elam is beaten on the play. But he has his hands (see how this is done Roberson!) in perfect position over the receivers hands.

Elam23_medium

(Photo courtesy of GatorVision)

Which results in a beautiful knockdown of the pass by Elam.

Play No. 2: Elam's interception on Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Tyler Bray:

Elam1_medium

(Photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

Elam (yellow circle) gets his first interception on the year as the result of a little luck. Look at where the ball (red circle) is compared to the receiver (yellow square). It is a horrible throw by Bray, but it is an understandable throw. It is late in the game and Tennessee needs to score quickly.

Elam2_medium

(Photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

Elam makes the interception (yellow square) that puts the final nail in Tennessee's coffin, but that isn't really the highlight of the play.

Elam3_medium

(Photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

In the celebration after the play, Dominique Easley nearly decapitates Elam (yellow square).

Elam4_medium

(Photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

"Oops, my bad."

Play No. 3: Elam's interception on Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Morgan Newton:

Elam5_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Yet another interception for Elam (yellow circle) that is the result of a bad throw. Elam is just playing zone coverage and the receiver (green circle) runs his crossing-route right underneath him.

Elam6_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

The receiver (green circle) has just made his cut.

Elam7_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

At the moment the ball is thrown (red circle), the receiver (green circle) is open. Elam (yellow circle) is beginning to take a few steps closer to the receiver.

Elam8_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

You can tell by the reaction of the receiver that the ball is overthrown.

From another angle:

Elam9_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

The ball (red circle) is about two or three yards over the receivers' head.

Elam10_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Elam makes the interception (yellow square).

From another angle:

Elam11_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Elam (yellow square) did in fact bobble it for a second, but as we know, he held on to the ball.

Play No. 4: Elam's sack on Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller:

Elam12_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Elam (yellow circle) comes in on a blitz, which he times almost perfectly. The right tackle (green circle) is assigned to block him.

Elam13_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

The right guard just kind of pushes Elam aside (yellow square), which makes Elam try a different tactic.

Elam14_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Elam is now going to use his speed.

Elam15_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

The pressure from the left (Jonathan Bostic) causes Miller (green circle) to run up and to the left.

Elam16_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

The force in which Elam makes contact with Miller (yellow square), sends Miller flying five yards up the field.

Elam17_medium

(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Five yards.

It's no secret in these parts that Matt Elam is my favorite player on the team. I suspect that he is also the favorite of a few others as well. If his career continues at its current pace, I really hope that he decides to stay for his senior year. I know his size will continue to be a knock on him, but it wouldn't be the first time a small safety found success at a higher level.

Bonus points are awarded to those who caught the extremely minor Seinfeld reference.

Previous Season Review editions of Theater of Operations: Quarterbacks (parts one, two, three), running backs (parts one, two, three), tight ends (one part), wide receivers (parts one, two), offensive line (parts one, two), defensive line (parts one, two, three), BUCK (one part), linebackers (parts one, two) and cornerbacks (one part).

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