Diminutive Mathieu boasting big-play ability

Tyrann Mathieu stands 5-foot-9, weighs 180 pounds and speaks so
softly sometimes that it is hard to hear him above the hum of the
air conditioners at LSU’s indoor practice field.

The 19-year-old’s stature and tone contrast sharply from his
bold ambitions, the havoc he causes opposing offenses and the
game-changing plays he can make on special teams.

”I tend to make my goals almost impossible, so I’m just always
working harder,” said Mathieu, a true sophomore who took the
starting cornerback spot that opened when Patrick Peterson left for
the NFL after last season.

Mathieu, who also returns punts, doesn’t measure his goals by
statistics as specific as interceptions, sacks or forced fumbles –
things he’s already shown a penchant for in his young career.
Rather, he talks about greatness, domination and competing for
national honors as prestigious as the Heisman Trophy.

As for the Jim Thorpe Award that goes to the nation’s top
defensive back, which Peterson won last season, Mathieu wants that,
too. He’s even wearing Peterson’s old No. 7 jersey.

”I’m just intense for the most part,” Mathieu said Monday,
when third-ranked LSU continued preparations for Thursday night’s
Southeastern Conference opener at No. 25 Mississippi State. ”I
just want to be aggressive, just want to be physical. I think I
just want to dominate my opponent.”

After only 15 games and three career starts, Mathieu ranks
second all-time at LSU with six forced fumbles.

The New Orleans native delighted coaches and stunned opponents
with his instinctive play as freshman out of St. Augustine High
School.

Last season, he was substituted into games an extra defensive
back in passing situations, and because he demonstrated a nose for
the ball, he was often in on blitzes.

He had five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two
interceptions and 4 1/2 sacks as a freshman. He also was credited
with 57 tackles, including 8 1/2 tackles for losses.

He capped that campaign with a memorable performance during
LSU’s lopsided Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M, in which he
had seven tackles, forced two fumbles, recovered one fumble, made
an interception and registered a sack.

”To have a corner come in and do what Tyrann Mathieu did for us
last year won’t happen every year,” LSU defensive coordinator John
Chavis said. ”There were a lot of things that he did on instinct.
… He’s a playmaker. It doesn’t matter where you put him, he makes
plays.”

In the LSU’s season-opening 40-27 victory over Oregon in Dallas,
Mathieu was on punt coverage when he stripped Ducks returner Kenjon
Barner, then picked up the fumble and ran it in for LSU’s first TD.
He also had a team-high 10 tackles.

He was given a rest during most of the second half of LSU’s 49-3
victory over Northwestern State last weekend, but increased his
team-leading tackle total to 14 and was in on a sack.

”I’m really sick of him getting back there before I get back
there because I want some sacks,” LSU defensive tackle Michael
Brokers said when asked about Mathieu’s uncanny knack for getting
to quarterbacks. ”He’s a tremendous player, amazing guy. Some
things that he does are hard to believe.”

When describing Mathieu recently, Miles said it is as if the
diminutive defensive back looks in the mirror and sees a 6-foot-6,
300-pound player who is also the fastest man on the field.

”There is not a play that he cannot make,” Miles said.

Out of uniform, Mathieu is like a regular guy from the Big
Easy.

He his deferential to the seasoning of Creole cooking, often
ducking into the popular ”Mother’s” restaurant downtown, or the
Camellia Grill by the river.

He’s been to countless Mardi Gras parades, primarily because he
wanted to see the St. Augustine band, among the most renowned in
Louisiana. He even briefly tried playing drums before deciding he
was better at pounding on quarterbacks, receivers and the like.

When Mathieu arrived at LSU, he immediately started working with
Peterson, which he says gave him the confidence to want to be
great. Now, although he won’t turn 20 until May, he is well on his
way to becoming the defensive leader Peterson was.

He is known to practice with an intensity that has teammates
referring to him as a ”beast,” or an ”animal,” and Miles said
it is apparent that Mathieu has developed ”a following” in the
locker room.

”It’s always good to think that you are a leader,” Mathieu
said, ”that you can make everyone around you better.”

Notes: Miles said Monday that LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee is
expected to play from ”start to finish” against Mississippi
State, even though coveted junior college transfer Zach
Mettenberger played well in his debut during the second half of
last Saturday’s 49-3 victory over Northwestern State. Lee appeared
somewhat hobbled by a sack, but was 9 of 10 for 133 yards and a
score against the Demons, and Miles says he is ”100 percent.” …
Miles says senior starting linebacker Ryan Backer is set to play
against the Bulldogs after serving a one game benching for an
undisclosed team rule violation. Miles added, however, that Baker’s
role may be more limited than usual.