- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: GatorNation is counting down the top five moments of Florida’s 2012 season this week. They could be plays, drives, quarters or decisions, but regardless of what they are, they are the significant moments that shaped the season.
We finish with No. 1: Elam’s strip
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- All S Matt Elam wanted to do was make a tackle.
He wasn’t thinking about momentum or last October or the rest of the season. He just wanted to get LSU WR Odell Beckham on the ground and save a touchdown.
Instead, he made what turned out to be the biggest play of Florida’s season.
Elam ran down Beckham and ripped the ball loose after a 56-yard gain. Florida’s De’Ante Saunders recovered, and the Gators went on to score a clinching touchdown to upset No. 4 LSU 14-6 on Oct. 6 at Florida Field.
"I felt like I had to make a play," Elam said. "My plan was to stop him from getting into the end zone. More came out of it, so thank God for that."
It was a lot more than just a forced fumble. It was the turning point in the season.
Florida had just taken a 7-6 lead late in the third quarter, but LSU squashed any momentum the Gators had generated when QB Zach Mettenberger hit a wide-open Beckham down the right sideline to convert a third-and-7. At the very worst, the big gain was going to set up the Tigers for a go-ahead field goal.
Nothing, apparently, had changed from October 2011. The Gators went 0-4 in the month, starting with a loss to LSU. It looked like this October was going to start the same way. Score a go-ahead TD and then almost immediately give up a big play? Same old, same old.
Until Elam’s relentless effort play, which instantly energized the crowd, the players, and the coaches.
"We just had to keep on going," Elam said. "I knew eventually the offense was going to get going, and they did. We feed off of each other, and that’s the objective: to feed off of each other."
UF took over on its own 23-yard line and then methodically pounded an LSU defensive front that was regarded as one of the nation’s best.
The Gators ran the ball on 11 consecutive plays, including Mike Gillislee’s 12-yard touchdown run with 13:18 remaining to put UF ahead 14-6. LSU never got past its own 43 the rest of the game.
"In the offseason that was our thing: Finish," Elam said. "That was our problem last year, we couldn’t finish, and you’ve got to be finishing in the SEC. You’ve got to play 60 minutes, and we did."