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LSU Football: Is the "Honey Badger" Really Worth Missing?

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LSU Football: Is the
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Unless you have been stranded on a desert island or living amongst monks for the past two years, you are certainly familiar with Tyrann Mathieu.

After an exciting sophomore season which led to an invite to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist, the troubled LSU defensive back was dismissed by LSU coach Les Miles this August after a second failed drug test.

Enter the 2012 season and the talented Bayou Bengals are once again in the running for a possible BCS National Championship. Many of the stars from last year's squad have returned and new quarterback Zach Mettenberger was anointed as a significant upgrade to predecessors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee.

As the college football season enters October and the meat of most teams’ schedules, the Tigers have gotten off to a 5-0 start.

After three solid wins to begin the year, LSU struggled to pick up the last two against an outmanned Auburn squad and FCS opponent Towson. As is the case anytime a top contender begins to falter, fans and critics alike are searching for a way to rationalize the underperformance.

Questions loom about the potential of the early-season favorites to challenge for a third BCS title.

How big of an issue is the offensive line?

Was Tyrann Mathieu Overrated?

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Is it possible to actually long for the return Jarrett Lee?

Towson? Really? Where is Towson anyway?

This inevitably leads back to what would have happened if the “Honey Badger” was still with the program. After all, it is basically an unprecedented move for a coach to drop a player who won multiple national awards the previous year prior to the start of the next season.

Surely, LSU would have fielded a much more dominant team if it had its All-American back, right?

I would say absolutely not.

Tyrann Mathieu was nothing more than a glorified role player that parlayed a grouping of big plays and the corresponding media hype into the illusion that he was a great player.

Mathieu had the great fortune of Morris Claiborne, who actually probably was the best defensive back in the nation, lining up opposite to him in the Tigers' defensive back field. Claiborne consistently shut down the boundary side of the field against the pass and could get ball-carriers to the turf in space when they did catch the ball.

This allowed defensive coordinator John Chavis to provide corresponding safety help with Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor to mask the Honey Badger’s lack of cover skills, freeing him up to aggressively go after the ball.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Eric Reid Behind Mathieu. Pretty common scene in 2011.

When the defense went into a nickel formation, Mathieu was replaced by Ron Brooks or Tharold Simon on the outside and moved to the middle of the field.

Why would you ever do this with your all-everything cornerback? 

The simple answer is because he was a complete liability in coverage and couldn’t be relied upon to prevent big plays on the edge without the additional safety help. 

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the BCS title game when LSU decided to bring a safety into the box to help contain Trent Richardson. Without Eric Reid standing behind him, Mathieu managed to make Kevin Norwood look like Julio Jones.

Tyrann Mathieu was not without his qualities. He was a fine return man and used the cushion provided by LSU’s truly great defensive backs to make big plays happen.

But to say he was the best defensive back in the country is a huge stretch when you could easily argue he was the third- or fourth-best on his team.

So be honest with yourself. Does Mathieu’s undeniably selfish act and subsequent dismissal really leave LSU missing that much?

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