After a scoreboard replay and a roar from the crowd, Matt Elam ran about 25 yards down the field while swinging his right arm around repeatedly in a circular motion before pointing to UF’s side to signal “Our ball!”
After the review confirmed it, Elam sprinted down the field again with both arms extended as if he was flying — And he was.
The junior safety was flying all over the field all game long, clearly geeked to the gills. Elam’s excited effort fueled No. 10 Florida’s 14-6 win against No. 4 LSU.
It wasn’t only because it was the first battle between top-10 teams in The Swamp since 2006.
It was for his sister Britnee Walker, who Elam said battled breast cancer “a few months ago.” October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Elam sported more pink — the color used to honor breast cancer victims and survivors — than most. He sported pink wristbands, socks and even had a pink towel draped out of the back of his pants.
Elam even wore a black T-shirt with a big pink Gators image splashed across the front when he met with the media after the game. Sweat beaded on his forehead, just below his four-inch high Mohawk, that he wiped away with a pink towel.
“That was very important to me, because she was so young when she battled through it,” Elam said. “She was here at the game, so I had to show her support.”
Elam’s arm swinging and flying action came after he came up with the biggest play of the game. He made what appeared at first to be a touchdown-saving tackle at the end of a long pass play, but he also used his left hand to rip the ball away from LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr.
However, a referee has whistled the play dead before UF defensive back De’Ante Saunders scooped it up.
After an official review, it was ruled Elam did successfully strip the ball loose for a fumble, stripping the Tigers of any momentum the play would have created in the process.
“I’m not going to say I tried to do it — It was all instincts and great effort and it paid off,” Elam said. “I had to make a play. I had to stop him. My plan was to stop him from getting into the end zone, and more came out of it. Thank God for that.”
Elam said he took a “bad angle” to cut off Beckham Jr. after the Tigers’ fastest player sprung free behind the coverage.
Florida coach Will Muschamp agreed, while crediting Elam’s extra effort for making up for the busted coverage.
Muschamp said “that was a huge play by Matt,” and said he had coaching staff in the booth who were telling him the ball had been fumbled over his headphones.
“I just told (line judge) Kirk (Lewis) on our sideline, just hold on to it, and our officials do a great job,” Muschamp said. “Don’t let them snap. I’ll call a timeout if I need to, just don’t let them snap it.”
It wasn’t the only time Elam was animated after making a play on Beckham Jr.
After clobbering Beckham Jr. at the end of a punt return early in the second half, Elam put both of his hands together up to right side of his face, then shut his eyes as if to say, “Good night.”
Elam was putting the opposition to sleep all game, even when he wasn’t smashing the ball carrier (he led the team with seven tackles).
No matter where the ball went or where he was on the field, he was looking for someone in purple and gold to punish.
“I felt like we had to come in here and hit them in the mouth — that was the plan,” Elam said.
One one play, Elam even punished a guy in the wrong colored jersey after Louchiez Purifoy clotheslined Beckham Jr. after a 51-yard punt by Kyle Christy. Excited for his teammate making a big play, Elam clobbered Purifoy, knocking him to the ground.
“Coming into the game, no one thought we could win this game,” said Elam, while shaking his head side to side. “It’s great to be the underdogs and come out on top.”
It’s easy to get to the top when you can fly.