LSU still aiming for title without Mathieu

LSU still aiming for title without Mathieu

Published Aug. 14, 2012 3:38 p.m. ET

The focus should be on who they do have rather than who they don’t.  

Sure, the loss of Tyrann Matheiu will leave a hole in the LSU secondary. For all his bluster and Muhammad Ali-level bravado, Matheiu was the best defensive back in college football, and arguably the best overall player in the country. Replacing him will not be as easy as plugging in redshirt freshman Jalen Collins or true freshman Jalen Mills.

Opposing offensive coordinators are already developing game plans to test LSU’s corners, and special teams’ coaches are breathing a sigh of relief knowing the Honey Badger won’t be fielding kickoffs and punts.   

But one player does not make or break a championship team. Remember Jordan Jefferson? Prior to opening kickoff last year, LSU was supposedly a contender with him and an also-ran without him.

Then came Shady’s bar and the parking lot brawl that resulted in Jefferson being sidelined for more than a month.

How did the Tigers manage without him?

They went undefeated and were the No.1-ranked team in the country with backup Jarrett Lee.  

Collins probably won’t have 54 solo tackles, or five forced fumbles, or return a punt for a touchdown against Arkansas or return another one for a touchdown against Georgia in the SEC Championship game as Mathieu did.

But that doesn’t mean LSU won’t be a great. Sure-handed receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. is expected to return kickoffs and punts in the Honey Badger’s absence, and defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are expected to be much better this year than last.

LSU has arguably the best defensive line in college football, and with quarterback Zach Mettenberger leading the offense, Les Miles hopes that defense doesn’t have to spend as much time on the field.

But winning isn’t always about talent.

Expect the rest of the LSU Tigers to rally around their team and their coach; expect them to be inspired that the rules they have lived under and obeyed were applied evenly and fairly, even when it meant dismissing the most talented player on the team and the most talented player in the nation at his position.

And expect them to rally because the goal of a national championship was always about the team and never about one individual.   

“For Ty, it’s an opportunity for him to redirect,” Miles said late last week after announcing Matheiu’s removal. “He’s still got a bright future. I think he can really accomplish all the goals he set for himself. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be doable.”  

On Tuesday, Miles reiterated that support in a post-practice media session.

 “I am certainly rooting for Ty and whatever his future is, but I’m not focused on that,” Miles said. “This is a key time in his life. I hope the decisions he makes are in his best interests for the long term. We’ll help any way we can.”  

That firm but compassionate attitude from the head coach is one of the key reasons that LSU will continue to contend without Matheiu.

Inspiration makes up for a lot of ills. And you can expect the LSU Tigers to play some inspired football.

The players that are left know they have a lot to prove.