Tyrann Mathieu was quiet and subdued Monday when he met with the media for the first time since before the Tennessee game in mid-October – before he missed the following game due a suspension for allegedly failing a drug test.
That in itself isn’t huge news because Mathieu, No. 1-ranked LSU's playmaking defensive back, has always been fairly quiet and subdued off the field. Almost a Dr. Jekyll to the Mr. Hyde he turns into when he steps between the white lines.
But it’s important to note that there was also an undercurrent of humility with Mathieu that hasn’t always been there.
“My suspension, not being there with my teammates, not taking the field those guys, that was pretty humbling,” Mathieu said.
|Mathieu: Swagger is still there on the field.|
Whether it was the suspension or the overload of attention prior to the Tennessee game when Mathieu had just one tackle and was targeted in pass coverage several times, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound sophomore simply wasn’t the same destructive force for several weeks.
He recorded 5 tackles in the defense-dominated 9-6 victory at Alabama, but Mathieu was little more than an afterthought as teammates around him delivered one big play after another.
Last week in the Tigers’ 42-9 victory against Western Kentucky, Mathieu finally re-emerged with 7 tackles, a pass breakup, a quarterback hurry and a key 29-yard punt return – his longest this season.
“I just tried to go out there and have fun,” Mathieu said. “I tried to do it for the guy next to me and not really focus on everything that surrounded what happened. Just move forward and play championship football.”
To move forward, though, it was important that Mathieu reflected back on what he lost for a week.
“I had to put a lot of things in perspective,” Mathieu said. “I realized what I was playing for and who I was playing for – why I do the things I do on the football and off the football field.”
The undesired week away from the field was a stark reminder to Mathieu that he still has plenty of maturing to do.
That might be easier to do now that Mathieu has drifted back into the background a bit.
No more Heisman Trophy talk. The Honey Badger nickname has apparently run its course.
All that attention – while it was a nice ego boost for Mathieu and created some nice national stir the Tigers – was also counterproductive.
To his credit, Mathieu didn’t hesitate to say it overwhelmed him.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t,” he said. “You try to stay focused and try to look to the positives and not get caught up into that. From time to time we drift, so it’s really about you just realizing what you’re playing for, why you’re doing what you are and what got you to this point. You’ve got to put things into the perspective.”
Now Mathieu has more or less faded into the background. He’s still talented and dangerous for opposing offenses, but he’s just another very good player on a very good LSU defense – a transformation that a few of his teammates bluntly said was probably exactly what Mathieu needed after the whirlwind of the first weeks of the season when you couldn’t turn on ESPN without seeing or hearing about him.
“It can humble a person a little more since they’re not in the spotlight anymore and he could focus a little more on what he needs to do,” defensive tackle Mike Brockers said.
“When you get a young guy getting attention like that … he needs to be humbled a little bit so he can focus on his team instead of himself.”
So does Mathieu mind his new lower profile?
“Yeah, I kind of like it in the (background),” he said.
Not that Mathieu has completely abandoned the swagger he put on full display early on.
|Mathieu: Humbled or not, he can still hold his own as a trash talker|
In the Alabama game, he spent much of his night yapping at Crimson Tide receivers – especially Marquis Maze – and was flagged late in regulation for holding on a punt return for a play that many national pundits pegged as dirty.
And his Twitter personality hasn’t been subdued, either.
Mathieu has been asked to dial back his social media activity a time or two by LSU coach Les Miles. But Mathieu also insists it’s not a matter of seeking attention.
“Coach Miles tells me about the tweeting,” he said. “It’s a distraction to the team and not what we want to represent.”
“I don’t think I want to attract attention to myself. I just get caught in the moment on the field. I have to watch what I’m tweeting and watch what I’m saying via the social networks.”
There’s a noticeable change, not so subtle, with Mathieu.
And moving forward, with so many lofty goals getting closer and more attainable, maybe that’s exactly what Mathieu and the Tigers need.