The post-Honey Badger era begins
As the smoke settles and the shock begins to dissipate, LSU can finally move forward into the post-Honey Badger era in Baton Rouge.
Head coach Les Miles’ decision to dismiss Tyrann Mathieu from the team last Friday sent shockwaves throughout the sports world and broke the heart of Tiger nation.
In just two years, Mathieu had become one of the most popular Tigers in recent history. He was on the cusp of gaining icon status.
The sophomore season he put up earned him a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist—something very few defensive players achieve. And by finishing fifth in the voting, he became the first Tiger to be voted so highly since Charles Alexander in 1978.
On a team that had one of the greatest regular seasons in college football history and made it to the BCS National Championship Game, Mathieu was the catalyst not only on defense but also on special teams.
He had two interceptions, six forced fumbles and scored four touchdowns—two on defense and two on punt returns. LSU scored six touchdowns while trailing last year; Mathieu scored three of them.
His 11 forced fumbles is a school record and ranks seventh in college football history.
His tenacious and opportunistic play earned him the nickname “Honey Badger” and instantly made him a star.
Unfortunately for Mathieu, he was never able to handle all that came with having such a distinction.
He was suspended before last year’s Auburn game because of a failed drug test. And numerous sources close to the situation have said that it was another failed test that forced Miles to finally part ways with Mathieu last week.
So, as Mathieu transfers to a FCS school, the post-Honey Badger era has begun for his teammates. As shocked and disappointed as they may be, they must re-group quickly with the start of the season only a little more than two weeks away.
It won’t be in man-to-man coverage where they’ll miss Mathieu. That was never the strength of his game. Last year, it was Morris Claiborne who was the team’s lock-down corner. This season, Tharold Simon will assume that role.
It also doesn’t hurt that former Dutchtown star Eric Reid returns as one of the best safeties in the country.
However, Mathieu’s play-making ability will be where the Tigers miss him the most. Every time he went in for a tackle, he was a threat to strip the ball loose. And as a punt returner, he was one of the most dangerous players in the country.
And then there are always the intangibles he brought to the field. His teammates constantly fed off of his swagger, enthusiasm and fearlessness he exuded through every snap. He was the clear emotional leader of not just the defense but of the whole team.
Ron Brooks did a superb job of filling in for the Honey Badger last season, but he’s now a Buffalo Bill.
Two freshmen will be expected to pick up the slack. Redshirt freshman Jalen Collins and true freshman Jalen Mills will step in and though both are extremely talented, inexperience could be their downfall.
There’s only one way to find out. The Tigers kick the season off at home against North Texas on Sept. 1. It’s then that they’ll get their first taste of what it’s like without the Honey Badger.