By Richard Cirminiello
I was way off base back in the summer. LSU misses Tyrann Mathieu a lot more than I anticipated.
When it was announced on Aug. 10 that Mathieu had been dismissed from the football program, I remember first being stunned, which always happens when a prominent figure gets bounced without much warning. And then I recall thinking that the Tigers will be just fine without him. The Honey Badger had shown some erratic behavior at times in the offseason, and had already been suspended once before during his breakout sophomore season. I even used the phrase “addition by subtraction” at one point on the air, feeling as if Mathieu’s likely final season as an amateur was going to become one long campaign of Twitter outbursts, self-promotion and petulance; a distraction that pulled attention away from the team, and placed it squarely on No. 7. Boy, was I wrong.
It turns out that LSU needed Mathieu in the worst way in 2012 after all. The Tigers’ roster isn’t a whole lot different than a year ago, when the team authored one of the best regular season runs of the BCS era. Quarterback play is second-rate. The backfield is deep and bruising. The defense is steeped in pass rushers, speed and next-level talent. The special teams are terrific. Yup, sounds an awful lot like Les Miles’ 2011 crew. The glaring difference, of course, has been Mathieu. He didn’t just give the program an active defender and an electrifying return man. No, he infused last year’s SEC champs—and their fan base—with adrenaline, energy and passion, which is sorely deficient on this current team. To say that LSU lost in the Swamp Saturday—and hasn’t performed well in almost a month—because the offense couldn’t move the ball is technically accurate, but doesn’t go far enough to explain the problems in Baton Rouge. The Tigers are reeling because they lack heart and a fire in their belly, the kind of things Mathieu injected into the program every time he stepped on to the field.
Late in the third quarter, with LSU trailing by a point, QB Zach Mettenberger hung tough in the pocket to find Odell Beckham down the sideline for a 56-yard gain to the Florida 23. The Tigers were back in business and were set to take the lead, right? Uh-uh. Gators S Matt Elam never gave up on the play, stripping Beckham of the ball, which was eventually recovered by teammate Pop Saunders. It was a crucial play, a game-changer that wasn’t going to show up in the box score. Ironically, it was a Honey Badger kind of effort, one built out of passion, determination and an unquenchable desire to make something happen when the game was at a tipping point. Mathieu wasn’t in the Swamp to leave his imprint on the outcome. Elam was, and Florida not so coincidentally is the team that remains unbeaten as the season hits the halfway point.
LSU misses Tyrann Mathieu for myriad different reasons. And if someone can’t step up to fill even a little of the emotional, physical and intangible voids, the Tigers are going to lose a couple more of these low-scoring fist fights before the regular season ends.
Monday Thought: Bring Back The Honey Badger!
By Richard Cirminiello