Matt Elam has changed the way Florida plays defense.
With a monster performance against LSU, which included a potential touchdown-saving forced fumble, Elam proved why he’s the most valuable player on Florida’s fourth-ranked squad.
The 5’10”, 202-pound firecracker is a hybrid of former Gator greats Brandon Spikes and Ahmad Black. His physicality and affinity for trash-talking bring back memories of No. 51 leading the front seven, while his sure tackling and knack for making impact plays reminds many of the steady Black.
Elam arrived at Florida in 2010 as a 5-star safety and No. 10 overall recruit in the nation and had a chance to play with Black that year before the former All-SEC star was selected in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL draft.
After stepping into the starting lineup last season and recording 78 tackles (11.0 for loss), two sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles, Elam’s game has soared to new heights in 2012.
The unquestioned leader of the secondary has elevated his game and put the team on his back in critical moments.
His raw stats—26 tackles (3.0 for loss), one sack, one pick and one monumental forced fumble—look terrific, but it’s the relentlessness and ferocity that he brings from his strong safety spot that make him the team’s MVP.
Against LSU, Elam consistently made game-changing plays, firing up both the crowd and his teammates with bone-crushing tackles. After LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger connected with receiver Odell Beckham on a 56-yard pass, Elam hawked down the speedy wideout and clawed the ball out of Beckham's hands.
If not for Elam's heroic save, LSU would have had possession at the Gators' 23-yard line, with a chance to regain the lead.
Instead, Florida got the ball back, marched 77 yards down the field and put up the game's final touchdown.
Although Mike Gillislee certainly deserves to be named the offensive MVP and should be in contention for the Heisman, Elam’s ability to fill multiple roles as a blitzer, cover man, run-stuffer and special teams ace earn him my MVP vote.
Gillislee has certainly impressed in his first year as a starter, but he’s also benefited from some strong play up front and a creative offensive coordinator who maximizes Gillislee’s talents. It’s not a knock on the kid, but Florida’s defense is what’s impressed me more this year.
Despite Elam's relatively short frame, the true junior is a stout run defender and an equally impressive cover man. He’s not exactly a true center fielder, but he knows how to take proper angles and deliver a blow when necessary.
With Jelani Jenkins missing time with a thumb injury, Ronald Powell out for the season and Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley playing at less than 100 percent, Elam has had to shoulder the load for Florida’s sixth-ranked scoring defense.
If he keeps playing like this, he’ll become the next great Gator safety to dominate on Sundays.
For now, Saturdays will have to do.