Another LSU game and another highlight-making big play by cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.
It what has become practically a weekly occurrence, the sophomore from New Orleans made a defensive or special teams play that created points for the Tigers.
Mathieu sacked Kentucky’s Maxwell Smith, causing a fumble, picked up the football and ran 23 yards for a back-breaking touchdown in a 35-7 rout of the Wildcats on Saturday in Tiger Stadium. Mathieu’s school-record ninth forced fumble and subsequent touchdown gave LSU a 28-0 lead midway through the third quarter.
“We had a strong-side blitz on and it was just a matter of me sneaking up to the line of scrimmage and luckily the quarterback had no clue about me coming,” Mathieu said. “It was really just about me getting my hands on the ball.”
For a guy who doesn’t play offense, Mathieu sure gets his hands on the ball a lot. Last week in a 47-21 victory at West Virginia he tipped a pass by Geno Smith, grabbed the football and ran 16 yards to the Mountaineers 1, setting up a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 27-7 halftime lead.
Earlier in the game, Mathieu ripped the ball out of a receiver’s hand for his record-tying forced fumble and another recovery.
In the season opener against Oregon, Mathieu knocked the ball loose from a punt returner, picked the ball up and ran into the end zone for a touchdown that jump-started LSU’s 40-27 victory.
“Everybody thrives on that, not just me,” Mathieu said. “When I make a big play, everybody wants to make a big play. It’s really just about us jelling together as a unit and having everybody’s back.”
Mathieu’s series of big plays just continues a trend he started as a true freshman last season. In 18 career games he has eight forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and four interceptions.
“If you’re an LSU fan, you’ve been seeing this now since he was a freshman last year,” ABC analyst Kirk Herbstreit said during last week’s telecast of the LSU-West Virginia game. “College football needs to pay attention to No. 7 of LSU. He’s one of the most dynamic playmakers in ALL of college football. He has that sixth sense to make plays. I don’t know how he does it; he’s always there to make plays.”
Mathieu has yet to strike a Heisman pose like last year’s No. 7 at LSU — cornerback/punt returner Patrick Peterson — did after a punt return for a touchdown. But his big plays have already put his name in the conversation.
ESPN analyst Andre Ware said during Saturday’s telecast that anyone who has a Heisman Trophy ballot, would have to be “crazy” not to consider Mathieu.
“I don’t go out on a limb talking Heisman in October,” Ware said, “but that’s how impressed I am.”
Mathieu, though, seems to have a hard time impressing himself. He said he goes into every game expecting to score, even though he has yet to score this season in what would figure to be the most likely way – on a punt return.
“There’s a certain expectation that you have to set for yourself,” he said. “There’s a certain swagger that you have to have every day, every play. It’s just about me going out there and laying it on the line for my team. It’s just a personal thing. It’s a pride thing.”