Here’s a fact that tells you everything you need to know about the 2011 LSU football season:
The Tigers have had twice as many players suspended (six) as they’ve had turnovers (three).
On the field, they’re Fortress LSU, having scored first in every game, trailed in just one game for a total of 6:33, and having squashed every opponent into oblivion by at least two touchdowns.
Off the field, it’s been the Baton Rouge Zoo.
The latest rulebreakers: the talented trio of Tyrann Mathieu, Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon. Sources say all three have been suspended for Saturday’s game against Auburn, though LSU coach Les Miles has chosen to suspend belief by refusing to announce that Messrs. Mathieu, Ware and Simon won’t suit up in their Nike Pro Combat gear this week (perhaps they still get to press their uniforms in their scrapbooks).
It’s Miles’ right to say no comment, and if I were him I can’t say I wouldn’t handle the situation the same way. His hope is that Auburn’s coaches are preparing as if those three will play, and if they have spent even one man hour planning for the suspended, then the suspense will have been worth it.
Mathieu, meanwhile, has expressed a modern version of a mea culpa - he’s tweeted about it. To wit:
“... to my fans and all those who look up to me I’m deeply sorry for what happened this week!”
“Being a Leader requires ambition but ambition can lead to unethical behavior”
And later this, to the “haters” on his Twitter timeline (a timeline is the list of tweets by you or others on your account):
“Either you embrace the hate or let it demolish you. If you create a catastrophe then you have to resolve it.”
Nice words, and I’m sure LSU fans will forgive and eventually forget. Mathieu may find my fellow Heisman Trophy voters not quite so accommodating, however. A seat for the “Honey Badger” at the Heisman ceremony on Dec. 10 right now looks like it will be filled by someone else.
Regardless, resolving the problem won’t take place Saturday, and it won’t help LSU against Auburn. Indeed, through their selfish and immature behavior, Mathieu, Ware and Simon have done something that Auburn probably doesn’t have the manpower to do:
They’ve made LSU vulnerable to an upset.
With those three, LSU could probably have held Auburn at arm’s length unless it returns three interceptions for touchdowns (see The Interception Game, circa 1994).
Without them, Auburn at least has a puncher’s chance at victory. Auburn will be breaking in a first-time starting quarterback: strong-armed sophomore Clint Moseley. And it’s top two receivers - Thibodaux’s Trovon Reed and Emory Blake - are at best questionable and may well not play.
Most importantly, quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley are now making lives miserable for other people in the NFL.
But Auburn still retains a powerful running back duo in Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb - the latter being the man who weaved 70 yards through a Newton-tenderized LSU defense last year for the winning touchdown in Auburn’s 24-17 victory.
They and an Auburn defense led by Southeastern Conference sack leader Cory Lemonier - a poor man’s Fairley but nonetheless fairly dangerous - plus Auburn’s penchant for pulling out close games make this the most tense game for LSU since the Oregon opener.
More than what Auburn can do, it’s what Mathieu and Ware and Simon won’t be around to do. What if Mathieu’s replacement can’t force a crucial turnover? What if the guy getting the carries meant for Ware doesn’t bowl over enough tacklers to get a crucial first down? What if Moseley completes a pass that Simon - who leads the team with eight pass deflections - would have broken up?
Chances are, LSU will do fine without its wayward three. It’s not a bigger hurdle to climb than the one LSU faced against Oregon - overall a more talented if less physical team than Auburn - without three offensive starters in Jordan Jefferson, Russell Shepard and Josh Dwoaraczyk.
But chances are, LSU won’t be able to keep dodging these bullets all season long. Saturday could be the day of reckoning.