KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - No player had a bigger hand in LSU’s strong start to 2011 than Tyrann Mathieu, whose take-what-I-want playmaking ability made the sophomore defensive back a dark horse Heisman Trophy contender.
The man known as the Honey Badger wasn’t his usual self in Saturday’s 38-7 victory over Tennessee.
Unable to force the spectacular turnover he has made his calling card, Mathieu was beaten on two long pass plays, called for pass interference near the LSU goal line and guilty of a missed tackle in the third quarter that allowed the Volunteers to convert a third-and-10 deep in their own territory.
First-half interceptions by Eric Reid and Morris Claiborne gave the defense all the big plays it needed.
“He takes big risks. That’s Tyrann,” Reid said. “He’s not perfect. If he misses a tackle, he knows we have his back. He’s going to keep doing what he does. We’re going to keep having his back.”
Mathieu’s rough outing came a day after he posted the following message on his Twitter page: “Just beat the (Florida) Gators now we got the Vols on the schedule lol we gon toast these boys pop tarts!! JUST LANDED IN KNOXVILLE, Can you hear me!”
Throughout the game, Mathieu and the Tennessee receivers jawed back and forth.
Mathieu made his only tackle Saturday after Da’Rick Rogers beat him on third down over the middle. Mathieu caught up with Rogers at midfield, but needed 16 yards to complete the takedown on a 44-yard pickup.
It appeared rather than make the routine tackle, Mathieu was trying to strip the ball from Rogers in search of his latest signature highlight.
“I like him that way,” Claiborne said. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Upon further review
The biggest head-scratcher Saturday came when LSU coach Les Miles challenged Tennessee kicker Michael Palardy’s extra point late in the second quarter. Replays showed the kick was good inside the left upright.
Miles lost the challenge, keeping LSU’s lead 14-7 and costing the Tigers a timeout.
“I must have not seen it, because I’ve only seen one other extra point that I could tell from the sideline was not good, and it was several years ago when I was coaching at another school,” Miles explained. “I said, ?That’s the exact same look I had.’ I recognized it was a different call so I challenged it. Let’s see how it looks. I’m going to go back and look again and see how close I was.”
Claiborne in record book
Claiborne had the third-longest interception return in LSU history Saturday when he had an 89-yard return after intercepting Matt Simms late in the first quarter.
White Graves and Greg Jackson share the record mark.
Graves returned an interception 100 yards for a score in a 27-7 win in 1964 at Kentucky. Jackson went the same distance to seal a 20-3 victory in 1988 at Mississippi State.
Claiborne’s return stretched from the LSU 6-yard line to the Tennessee 5, setting up Jarrett Lee’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle for a 7-0 lead.
LB Jones gets first start
Sophomore Tahj Jones got his first career start Saturday, lining up alongside sophomore Kevin Minter and senior Ryan Baker in LSU’s linebacking corps. He had three tackles, including one solo stop.
Regular starter Stefoin Francois did not play.
“Tahj is coming,” Miles said. “He’s one of those guys playing a lot of special-teams snaps. He’s playing a lot of defensive snaps.
“He’s going to just keep getting better and better.”