Making the case for LSU's Tyrann Mathieu

The catchy nickname is one of the reasons Tyrann Mathieu has become the rage this season in college football.

He’ll forever be known as the “Honey Badger.” It’s just one of those monikers that sticks.

Something else that sticks is the way he plays the game, the impact he has on the game and his uncanny ability to make game-changing plays when his team needs them most.

This LSU football team is crawling with talent. Anybody who doesn’t think so might want to turn on the television in a couple of years and watch the NFL.

Where Mathieu fits into that equation remains to be seen. His teammate, junior receiver Russell Shepard, said it best last week following the Tigers’ SEC championship game win over Georgia.

“He’s not the fastest, and he’s not the biggest,” Shepard said. “But he plays with a lot of passion.”

And it’s no secret to anyone who’s played against him why he just happens to always be around the ball.

“When you play as hard as he does, good things happen to you,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

Indeed they do. There’s a reason the 5-foot-9, 175-pound dynamo has recovered five fumbles, tied for the most in the country. The same goes for his six forced fumbles, which is tied for third nationally.

He’s scored two of his four touchdowns on fumble returns and the other two on punt returns. His 92-yard punt return against Arkansas two weeks ago was jaw-dropping. His 62-yard return last week against Georgia was even better, and then came one that topped them all.

Mathieu didn’t score on his 47-yard return, but he left as many as seven Georgia defenders in his wake while cutting, starting and stopping and weaving his way to the Bulldogs’ 17-yard line before the last guy finally got him.

Here’s the common denominator on all three returns: They came at points in the game when the Tigers needed a spark.

Mathieu, who’s played cornerback, nickelback and safety on defense this season, has his own built-in clock. He can sense when his team needs that big play.

And the way he attacks the ball, you’d swear he also has a built-in homing device.

“It goes deeper than football what Tyrann Mathieu means to this team,” LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “He might be a young guy, but we have a lot of young guys who are leaders that make plays, and nobody has made more of them this season than Tyrann.

“He’s a leader of leaders.”

Also the Tigers’ leading tackler, Mathieu hit a lull late in the season when he was suspended for the Auburn game for reportedly testing positive for synthetic marijuana.

It’s the reason some people may choose not to vote for Mathieu for the Heisman Trophy.

That’s a whole different debate.

But if you’re looking for the player who’s impacted his team in the most areas and has done it on the brightest stages, the next thing the “Honey Badger” takes will be the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night in New York City.