It turns out The Honey Badger really didn’t care.
On Friday at 1:05 p.m. Les Miles, head coach of likely preseason no. 1 LSU, said Tyrann Mathieu has been dismissed from the team for violating “Athletic Department Rules”. Rumors swirled this morning that Mathieu’s suspension stems from a failed drug test, which if true would be his third since enrolling at LSU, the second of which was followed by a one-game suspension in 2011.
The Honey Badger put Miles in a sobering position to have to kick the nation’s most electrifying player off a team with National Championship aspirations. The Honey Badger has also given his coach some unique challenges, including but not limited to finding an emotional lift to replace Mathieu, replacing an incalculable difference maker on all three levels, and most importantly instilling the focus LSU will need to finish camp strong and brave a daunting SEC schedule. Minus one badger, LSU still has enough talent to achieve all its preseason goals but it will take a resounding effort on Miles’ part.
During Miles’ press conference he said the situation is similar to losing a starting player to injury, so when the head coach reconvenes with his team he’ll certainly encourage them to move on. Behind closed doors, he’s going to figure out how. Losing a player of Mathieu’s caliber on the field is deflating, but losing his unbridled enthusiasm for the game and momentum grabbing plays is tough. I imagine behind the closed doors Miles will bring his leadership into the room and explain the situation and let them know despite their personality makeup they’ll have to be more vocal and demonstrative to replace “The Honey Badger” aura. Camp is still weeks from breaking, and in the rough and tumble SEC you can’t afford to waste practice. If LSU has mind to worry about Mathieu, it’s losing focus towards a three-game stretch that sees LSU visit Auburn and Florida, or even anupset-minded Washington team on September 8th.
Talent-wise you aren’t going to “replace” Tyrann Mathieu. No matter what LSU coaches and message boards tell you, Mathieu was a Heisman finalist as a true sophomore and had two interceptions, two touchdowns, two punt returns for touchdowns, and four forced fumbles against ranked competition last year; you could borrow talent from the NFL and still not duplicate those results. Filling in for Mathieu will be Jalen Collins, a 6-2 redshirt freshman that was a track star in high school and has since gained 20 pounds of muscle. Reports out of LSU camp suggest Collins is the team’s best pure athlete, so athletically Miles won’t be scared to put Collins in similar positions as Mathieu. What he won’t have is the gamebreaking ability as a return man, nor the ability to score touchdowns on a strip-and-score as a gunner on the punt team. Collins may very well be a fantastic defensive back, but he isn’t Mathieu.
As far as football is concerned, LSU will lose some impact on field position but the offense should be business as usual. LSU definitely still has two top-ten picks next April in Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery to compliment a future first-round pick in safety Eric Reid. Not many teams have such an embarrassment of defensive riches, so LSU shouldn’t feel sorry for itself. As the preseason no. 1 (expectantly), LSU took a step back in the hunt for a consecutive SEC title and a shot at the National Championship. But if Miles can refocus the team, get Jalen Collins up to speed and rally the troops, LSU can shed the no. 7 jersey looming over Baton Rouge and prove while the Honey Badger didn’t care, the Bayou Bengals do.