Part of the appeal of being a sports writer is the thrill of not knowing exactly what’s going to unfold going into game.
That unknown components that woven together make the fabric of a game and a season.
Darned if Tyrann Mathieu isn’t taking some of that element away this season.
After all, by now who’s really surprised any more by anything LSU’s 5-foot-9, 175-pound whirling dervish delivers within the confines of the white lines?
Tigers’ coach Les Miles insists he’s still surprised when Mathieu turns in a play like he did late in the first half Saturday, batting a pass up behind the line of scrimmage and snatching it out of the air for an interception.
“It’s never routine,” Miles said. “When guys make exceptional plays – when incredible is routine – that’s a problem. The things that he does, it’s incredible.”
Incredible and predictable.
It just seems like any time the Tigers need a defensive play to stem the tide or reverse momentum, Mathieu is right there in the middle of things. Stripping the ball from a receiver who’s got the ball or making a team pay for daring to throw anywhere within arm’s length of him.
There’s this side of Mathieu that comes out when it’s game time. This Mr.Hyde alter ego to a quiet and polite Dr. Jekyll.
When Mathieu speaks to the media, you have to lean in, listen close and cross your fingers you can hear everything he’s saying.
He’s that quiet. Off the field, anyway.
Like a lot of players, Mathieu is a completely different person once he slips into a football uniform – apparently his version of a Superman suit – and goes to work.
Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium was just another night at the office.
“When I step on the field, I’m a totally different person,” Mathieu said in that just-doesn’t-fit soft-spoken voice of his. “I play with more emotion. I get angry and talk a lot. Everybody thinks I’m talking to the other team all the time, but I’m not. I’m usually talking to get myself fired up or to get my team fired up.”
There may have been some of that Saturday, but Mathieu was also doing his share of trash talking, particularly with WVU inside receiver Tavon Austin – a little too much for a player as talented and as good a kid as Mathieu is.
He downplayed the give-and-take with Austin, an ongoing sub-plot that somehow never drew a penalty flag despite several spirited exchanges and a few occasions when one or the other went after the other for the sole purpose of yapping.
“You just try to be physical and aggressive and use whatever you can give yourself an edge,” Mathieu said. “If you can talk them out of a game, you’ve won that battle.”
At some point soon, Mathieu needs to curb the talk so it doesn’t affect how he is perceived or diminish what he accomplishes on the field – which is extraordinary.
I’ll readily confess that I kind of enjoy watching LSU’s bundle of energy jabber at times, as long as he keeps within the framework of the game and the spirit of competition.
As a fan of football and the drama of sports, I don’t hesitate to say I love to watch this kid play. Mathieu plays football the way former LSU baseball star Mikie Mahtook turned it loose on the diamond or the way former Tigers basketball standout Tyrus Thomas carried himself on the court.
Reckless abandon. Raw, pure Emotion. Love of the game out there for everyone to see.
There’s already some debate about whether Mathieu is better than his role model, Patrick Peterson. I’m not ready to make that stretch yet because Mathieu needs a whole lot more refinement and he also benefits from playing with a more talented group of players than Peterson did his first season for sure and maybe in 2010 as well.
That talent around Mathieu gives him some freedom to stray from the script quite a bit – similarly to Chad Jones, although Mathieu is doing so within the confines of the defense while Jones was often out of position and wound up in the right place at the right time.
Peterson, by contrast, showed up well-trained for college football and kept getting better.
There’s not as much polish on Mathieu yet, but that will come in time. Until he gets there, though, it sure is fun to sit back and watch to see what Mathieu is going to do next.
Although we all know there’s a safe bet Mathieu will do something big to create a ripple in any game he plays in.