ATLANTA — Long before defensive coordinator John Chavis started calling him the Honey Badger after the West Virginia game, back in the summer Tyrann Mathieu let his little sister dye his hair a honey hue on top.
He’s kept it that way ever since, getting it re-colored about once a month — until recently.
“I told myself I wouldn’t dye it again unless we make it to the national championship” game, Mathieu said.
Mathieu will have to get his hairdo done for sure, because the 13-0, No. 1-ranked LSU Tigers will definitely be playing in the Jan. 9 BCS National Championship Game in Mathieu’s hometown of New Orleans.
But he’d better be quick about it. Because the Honey Badger may want to look his best next weekend, too.
The Heisman Trophy will be handed out next Saturday in New York. And Mathieu, an early season dark horse contender for the award, looks like he thrust himself right back into the conversation Saturday.
Mathieu won’t win. There was about a month midseason, sandwiched around his one-game suspension against Auburn, when his game slipped down a black hole.
But you can make the argument he is the best player on the nation’s best team. For that, he deserves a seat at the Heisman table.
Les Miles, who isn’t fond of elevating one of his players over another, gave Mathieu his due in the wake of his contributions to LSU’s 42-10 SEC Championship Game romp over Georgia.
“I think he needs real consideration,” Miles said afterward, Mathieu at his right. “I think he’s a special player and maybe warrants, if the judges (Miles means voters) can make a quality decision, for him to attend in New York.”
Mathieu doesn’t have the gaudy stats of a running back. The offense doesn’t run constantly through his hands like a quarterback. All he does is make game-altering plays over and over again.
Never did LSU need Mathieu more than Saturday.
The Tigers trailed 10-0 to Georgia midway through the second quarter, their offensive gains being measured in fractions, not yards. And the aptly named Georgia Dome, three-fourths filled with Bulldog fans, rocked with an anticipated upset.
LSU’s most desperate hour called for something special from its most dynamic player. He gathered in a Drew Butler punt at his 38, cut right and sped down the sideline to make it a 10-7 game.
Or did he? Replays showed that Mathieu may have tossed the ball to an official before crossing the goal line. But the official signaled TD, there was no replay, and the Honey Badger got what he wanted. Per usual.
“I could see the referee looking at me kind of strange,” Mathieu said. “I’ll be sure next time to make sure I cross the goal line.”
Something tells you there could well be a next time. LSU has scored eight defensive and special teams touchdowns this year — guess who has half of them?
Mathieu also recovered a fumble by Georgia QB Aaron Murray to set up LSU’s second touchdown, and had a breathtaking 47-yard punt return to set up the Tigers’ third TD that may have been better than the first.
“Clutch players make big plays in key situations,” LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “Tyrann Mathieu is a player.”
New York would love the Honey Badger. We’ll find out early this week if he gets his chance.