LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu has made so many outstanding plays that when he doesn’t make any, it really stands out.
Mathieu, a sophomore from New Orleans whose play during the first half of the season generated a Heisman Trophy buzz nationally, did not play up to his standards in the top-ranked Tigers’ 38-7 victory at Tennessee last Saturday.
He entered the game as LSU’s leading tackler with an average of seven per game, but was in on just one, an assist. Da’Rick Rogers got inside of Mathieu to catch a pass on a slant route and dragged Mathieu for 16 yards before safety Brandon Taylor came over to help finish the tackle.
Mathieu was the defender on a 38-yard completion from Matt Simms to Rajion Neal.
Mathieu had four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries (returning one for a touchdown), two interceptions, five pass breakups, five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks before last week.
“I think y’all are going to see a lot of special things this week because he has to make up for that game,” Taylor said. “Everybody told him. He’s my roommate. He was pretty mad when we got back. I told him there’s a lot more football to play. It happens to everybody. Everybody has their down game. You just have to come back the next game focused and play harder.”
Taylor said Mathieu was the first defensive back in the film room Monday morning, preparing for this week’s home game against Auburn.
“I expect him to bounce back hard,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “I know how he’s going to come out next week, and it may not be pretty for someone.”
Mathieu has not spoken with reporters since last week’s game.
Overlooked can be OK
The Tigers have been using more linebackers the past couple of weeks because they’ve been playing opponents that have been using personnel groups that dictate less use of nickel and dime schemes. Various linebackers have contributed.
Tahj Jones made his first career start last week in place of sam linebacker Stefan Francois, who had an undisclosed injury. Kevin Minter has started in the middle and Ryan Baker at the will, but Karnell Hatcher, Lamin Barrow and Luke Muncie have also played.
Baker and Minter lead the group and are tied for fifth on the team with 27 tackles each. Hatcher has 14, Jones 13, Barrow nine, and Muncie eight. Baker, Francois and Hatcher are seniors, the other four are sophomores.
“I think you see younger players continue to evolve and come to the field. That is what it should be,” coach Les Miles said. “Kevin Minter is one of those guys that continues to improve. Tahj Jones plays a lot of snaps on special teams and is now playing a greater share on defensive snaps.
“There are a number of guys there because the veterans were a little bit nicked. When they get onto the field, they make the best of their times. They are making their points that maybe they should stay. It is a healthy situation. There is great competition.”
The defensive line and secondary have so many playmakers and so much depth that the linebackers don’t get as much attention.
“We have so much talent on this team I don’t blame anyone for overlooking us,” Minter said. “But we’re pretty stout in the linebacking corps as well. As long as we keep winning, I don’t care if we get overlooked.”
Miles said he has had “some unusual postgame handshakes,” but nothing like the heated confrontation between San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz that has been replayed endlessly since it occurred Sunday.
“It is an emotional time,” Miles said. “I do understand what is a very real drama when two people cross the field at the end of the game.
“I think sportsmanship and the responsibility to understand your institution and club overrides any personal piece that you may want to exhibit. That is not me and has never been me. I think it is a responsibility of the head coach at LSU to greet the opponent’s head coach, wish him well and send him off.”
Even LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard is a little surprised at how dominant the Tigers have been. LSU has won every game by at least 13 points and has an average margin of victory of nearly four touchdowns, even though it played four ranked teams in the first seven games.
“I looked at the schedule and was kind of surprised at the way we’re beating people,” Shepard said. “It kind of looks like a high-school schedule in a sense, especially when you’re playing in the SEC.
“Tennessee was a great team. People don’t realize that. They have a lot of great young talent. They really played us the first half. They played physical football, and they kind of challenged us that first half. I tip my hat to them and to their head coach. It’s kind of surprising when we can come out and play so consistent in all three phases.”