Almost halfway into their game against Arkansas, a game that could decide who would play in the BCS national championship game, LSU found themselves losing. Needless to say, the Tigers and their fans were starting to get a bit nervous.
If there was going to be one player who could change that fact within a few quick seconds, it was Tyrann Mathieu.
With Arkansas leading 14-7, they were forced to punt back to LSU right at the 50-yard line. It seemed like the Razorbacks would be able to pin the Tigers deep and have the chance to get the ball back again with excellent field position. Ideally, that field position would help Arkansas go ahead by two scores heading into halftime of the biggest game they had ever played.
Instead, Mathieu caught it at the eight-yard line and was never brought down. He went 92 yards for the game-tying score. The momentum that LSU gained from that scored continued into the second half, and the Tigers went on to run right over and through Arkansas and their BCS championship dreams.
As for LSU, the win may have ensured they will be playing in New Orleans on Jan. 9 for the national championship. They are the only BCS-conference team to finish the regular season undefeated, and they have twice defeated the No. 3 team in the nation (Oregon and Arkansas), and the No. 2 team on their home field (Alabama).
For a team with this kind of regular season dominance, there has been virtually no mention of a possible Heisman Trophy winner from the LSU team. Last year, national champion Auburn had Heisman winner Cam Newton. In 2009, Alabama won the title behind Heisman winner Mark Ingram.
LSU has been every bit as dominant, if not more, than the past two championship teams. The No. 1 team in the country should at least be represented among the Heisman finalists. Given what he has menat to LSU this season, Tyrann Mathieu should be among the four Heisman finalists in New York, joining Alabama's Trent Richardson, Stanford's Andrew Luck, and Baylor's Robert Griffin III.
While LSU does not have a statistically dominating player on offense—thanks to playing two different quarterbacks and two different running backs—they have someone who has dramatically impacted games on both defense and special teams, in Mathieu.
The punt return TD wasn’t the first time Mathieu made a game-turning play on special teams in a big game against a top-ranked team. Back in LSU’s opening game against then No. 3 Oregon in Dallas, Mathieu made a great play to strip the ball from Kenyon Barner after catching a punt deep in his own territory. Mathieu scooped it up and went in three yards for a touchdown—the first one LSU scored on the season.
Mathieu’s score put them ahead 9-6 in the second quarter, and the Tigers went on to win 40-27. Given Oregon’s capabilities on offense, who knows how the game might have changed if Mathieu doesn’t make that play.
In another big early-season game at West Virginia, Mathieu came up with another big play, in the second quarter. He deflected and intercepted a pass from Geno Smith deep in Mountaineer territory and returned it to the 1-yard line. That set up a touchdown that put LSU ahead 27-7, giving them enough of a cushion to weather the impressive second-half comeback by Smith and West Virginia.
This season, Mathieu has been the crucial element in an LSU secondary that has allowed the sixth fewest passing yards in the FBS, at 162 per game. That secondary is part of a defense that has allowed the second-fewest total yards per game (248). Defense is the reason LSU will most likely be playing for a national championship, and Mathieu is a big part of their defensive success.
Going back to the year 2000, there have been seven different years where both teams in the BCS championship have had a player represented among the Heisman finalists (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010). More often than not, team success ends up being the biggest factor in not only who wins the Heisman but who goes as finalists as well.
Richardson certainly solidified his case to win the Heisman with his season-high 203 rushing yards in Alabama’s win over Auburn. Given that Alabama now appears likely to make the championship game themselves, Richardson should be considered the favorite.
Although Alabama may be No. 2, LSU is still No. 1. If they win next week and remain No. 1, Mathieu deserves to be among the finalists, representing the nation’s best team.
Statistics and Heisman information used provided by Rivals.com and Sports-reference.com