You can’t sugarcoat it. LSU just lost a Heisman finalist three weeks before the season. That’s a major, major blow with the 2012 campaign fast approaching.
As reported by the team's official website, cornerback/special teams monster Tyrann Mathieu has been dismissed from the LSU football team for a violation of team policy. Last year he was suspended for one game for violating team rules, while The Times Picayune reports that Mathieu failed a drug test.
Uncertainty surrounds the situation, the violation and Mathieu’s future landing spot, but the Honey Badger will surface somewhere. As for LSU, it’ll have to replace some tremendous production and playmaking ability on both defense and special teams. Some of this will be easy; some will be impossible.
Mathieu’s big-play potential will be greatly missed. His six forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, two interceptions and two touchdowns on defense—as well as his incredible return ability on special teams—will not be replaced. Don’t even look down the depth chart for that guy. It’s an undefined ability and role that he filled better than anyone else in the country.
As a corner, however, his value is a bit more complicated. Although he was a tackling machine, his cover skills left a lot to be desired. There are younger cover-centric guys in the LSU locker room, although none of whom will be able to do the things that Mathieu did when he had the ball near or in his hands. This team has a knack for replacing talented defensive backs seemingly overnight, and it'll have to do it once again, a year earlier than anticipated.
Jalen Collins was penciled to be Honey Badger's backup, and the team is really excited about his potential at the position.
Mathieu's backup RSF 6-2 Jalen Collins is a bigtime talent. Teammates told me last JAN he was the most athletic guy on the team— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) August 10, 2012
More importantly, however, is the fact that LSU is still absolutely loaded at multiple positions and will still be a tremendous force. This stings, no question, but this is far from earth-shattering. It’s a major story, a nickname lost and a high-profile player gone from perhaps the nation’s best team in the country, but the Tigers will move forward with this and may not skip a beat.
Their offensive line might not be as good as Alabama’s, but it’s in the conversation, and they’ll be one of the top units in the country. The defensive line, led by Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, will also be a terror on each and every drop back. They have talent at linebacker, safety, wide receiver and a stable of running backs that will carry this offense. Translation: They are really good, better than most, all over the field.
And then there’s the wild card, Zach Mettenberger, LSU’s QB of the future. The loss of Mathieu’s big-play ability hurts, but LSU could strangely find these plays on the other side of the ball if Mettenberger’s play even sniffs his potential. This is a major question mark, and Mathieu’s departure does put pressure on the team to find new ways to score. Mettenberger's passing would be a great place to start.
Don’t feel sorry for the Tigers. Replacing touchdowns and takeaways won’t be easy, but it’s a nice luxury to have talent all around. They’ll be just fine.