Last Friday, much of Louisiana, and the nation, were shocked with the dismissal of star defensive back Tyrann Mathieu from the LSU football team. The 2011 Bednarik and Heisman finalist allegedly was dismissed for failing a third drug test, in accordance with LSU student guidelines (LSU will not officially comment on the cause of dismissal).
With Mathieu gone, LSU has lost the biggest game changer in college football, both on defense and special teams. Mathieu was able to make the big play when LSU needed it, normally resulting in a touchdown or great field position for the offense. No single player can replace what LSU has lost in Mathieu. So where does LSU go now? Who is going to try to fill the shoes of the Honey Badger? To fully understand that, you must understand exactly what the Honey Badger did in LSU’s scheme.
Before getting to defense, Mathieu was a dynamic player on special teams, both as a gunner and returner. To step into that role is sophomore wide receiver Odell Beckham. Beckham spelled Mathieu several times throughout the season and has shown himself to be a capable returner. While never breaking one for a TD, Beckham is elusive and has the ability to make people miss. The best example of this is on a TD reception against Kentucky.
On the roster, Mathieu is listed as a corner back. Enter Jalen Collins. Collins, a redshirt freshman, has been working as the third corner throughout spring and fall camp. Standing at 6-2, Collins is a far bigger corner than Mathieu, but he is inexperienced. Working in Collins favor is that Mathieu drops to nickel so much in LSU’s scheme, Collins has been prepared to play as if he were the starter.
It gets interesting when it comes to replacing Mathieu at the nickel position. This is the position that allowed Mathieu to cause so much havoc. LSU has options when it comes to that position. LSU was probably going to stay in its base 4-3 set more this upcoming season, a good decision with the crop of outstanding freshman linebackers coming in. However, when the game does call for a nickel back, LSU will look first to redshirt safety Micah Eugene. Due to injury, Eugene was able to work primarily with the first team defense, but he has yet to have in-game experience. Eugene should be considered the front runner, but Les Miles has said no decision has been made about the nickel position.
Replacing Mathieu will not be an easy task as it will take no less than three players to fill his void, with all but one having experience. Working into LSU’s favor is the early schedule. LSU will outmatch North Texas and Idaho with ease. The second game with Washington is one they should win, but the young secondary will be tested. By the time LSU goes to Jordan-Hare Stadium to face Auburn, they should have answers to replacing the huge hole left by the Honey Badger.
How do you think LSU will fare without their star defensive player? Do they still have a shot at the national title? Let us know in the comments!