About three weeks before LSU took the field for Saturday night’s season opener, the Tigers suffered a blow when Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the team, reportedly for failing multiple drug tests.
How would LSU compensate for the loss of the Honey Badger in a secondary loaded with inexperience? Who would step up and make Mathieu-like plays for the Tigers in the return game?
The answer to the first question may not be told until Washington brings its pass-happy attack to Tiger Stadium next weekend.
But sophomore receiver Odell Beckham Jr. looked very much like old No. 7 in breaking off a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown, the most exciting highlight of LSU’s 41-14 rout of North Texas.
“You can never replace a guy like that, but there are certain things he taught me,” Beckham said of Mathieu, who returned two punts for scores last year. “I try to take those tips and use them.”
What kind of tips?
“I don’t want to give away any secrets,” he said.
The secret about Beckham may be out soon enough.
The sophomore caught only three passes from quarterback Zach Mettenberger for 30 yards, but his play on special teams included four punt returns for 75 yards and one kickoff return for 26 yards.
Beckham nearly matched Mathieu’s two punt returns for scores in one game.
On a Will Atterberry punt early in the first quarter, Beckham raced 76 yards into the end zone, but officials flagged Jarvis Landry for an illegal block, negating the return. One possession later, Beckham went the distance for a 14-0 lead, hurdling Atterberry around the North Texas 35 and cruising down the left sideline.
“You get another opportunity to return one,” Beckham said, “you’ve just got to take advantage of it.”
But LSU may have a harder time replacing Mathieu at cornerback, a position from which the he wreaked havoc on opposing offenses with his knack for forcing turnovers.
Freshman Jalen Mills got the start Saturday in the first game of this college career.
“I only remember two balls being caught on him,” junior safety Eric Reid said. “He just needs to keep on improving.”
Reid had the biggest play of the night by the LSU defense when he stretched out to intercept Derek Thompson — a play that was originally ruled incomplete, then overturned after an official’s review.
But Reid got burned twice by receiver Brelan Chancellor, who went 80 yards for a score against Reid in the first half before adding a 15-yard touchdown reception in the second.
“They were both my fault,” Reid said. “I put us in a bad position and allowed the receiver to get position.”
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