Football is a game of inches. Everyone knows that. After taking a crunching hit right in the facemask and launching a pass up for anyone to come down with, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray was probably wishing Florida’s star safety was not a mere few inches away, but at least a few miles from Neyland Stadium during Florida’s 37-20 win on Saturday.
That said, it does not take stellar hand-eye coordination to intercept an entirely ill-advised, poorly thrown football.
There was less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Gators had managed to tie the score at 20-all despite the volume of 102,455 Volunteers’ faithful absolutely rabid for a victory.
Lerentee McCray, playing the Buck end/linebacker position this season following the ACL tear to returning starter Ronald Powell, lined himself up on the left side of the defensive line.
He was standing, showing blitz all the way.
Vols tight end Mychal Rivera who had already caught a touchdown earlier in the ballgame, read McCray’s stance as easily as McCray had projected his intentions.
It simply did not matter.
As soon as the ball was snapped, McCray was on top on Rivera, and within a few tenths of a second – remember, it only takes a few inches – McCray had muscled his way past the blocker and had rapidly descended upon Bray as if he were a plague of locusts.
A plague of locusts, but with giant biceps.
McCray rocked Tyler Bray, would should have taken the sack, but in his haste to try to make a big play with his arm, opted instead to blindly launch a pass into double coverage. He had been counting on his star receiver, Justin Hunter, to make a play for him.
Instead it would be Matt Elam, only inches from the intended receiver, who would be coming down with the ill-advised pass, and it would be Elam who would turn the tide of the game, not Bray.
In this game of inches, it was Elam who rose head and shoulders above his Volunteers competition.
Elam explained the play on the Gator IMG Sports Network after the game.
“I was in the post and I saw dig first, and I broke on the dig. Then I realized I had to get back because there was a post coming in behind me, so I backpedaled a little bit and it fell right in my hands.
“The guys up front get all of the credit from me, because when they do their job, that’s how I got my interception. That’s how I make plays off of them. When they put pressure on quarterback, they just throw it up in the air and I go and grab it.”
McCray also acknowledged how important a strong pass rush is when rattling a quarterback and forcing the all-important turnover. In fact, following the hard-fought, one-on-one victory over his positional opponent in Rivera, McCray was soaking in a little of Elam’s statistical success.
When asked byif he deserved something like a ‘half-credit’ for his teammate’s interception, McCray laughed and replied, “I’ve got to get half of that credit, I’ve got to!”
In this game of millimeters, McCray and Elam have both helped inch their team that much closer to the goal of a return to national prominence.