SEC football championship game: "Honey Badger' Tyrann Mathieu makes sweet plays to spark LSU Tigers' rally past Georgia Bulldogs

LSU cornerback turns around game

jerickson@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 4, 2011 

ATLANTA -- Only one defender has won the Heisman Trophy, and that might not change this season.

LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu might have too much ground to make up in this race.

But the diminutive cornerback with the catchy nickname might have punched his ticket Saturday to New York by making a bunch of big plays when LSU needed a spark.

“I think he’s a playmaker,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “And if he’s given an opportunity, he will do what he can, and that’s pretty special, to make a difference in a game.”

Mathieu -- nicknamed the Honey Badger after a wildly popular YouTube video -- finally got his opportunity late in the second quarter with LSU trailing 10-0.

“I just felt that we needed to change the momentum of the game,” Mathieu said. “It was the perfect time with that punt return. Just trying to make one guy miss and get up the field.”

He made more than one guy miss.

Fielding the punt at his 38-yard line, Mathieu took a couple of steps to his left, faked out two Bulldogs and headed back to the right. Mathieu split three more tacklers at midfield, then through the rest of Georgia’s punt coverage team for a 62-yard return to cut Georgia’s lead to 10-7.

At the end of the play, television replays showed that Mathieu might have tossed the ball to the referee, who was signaling touchdown, before crossing the goal line.

“I could see the referee looking at me kind of strange,” Mathieu said. “I’ll be sure next time to make sure I cross the goal line.”

The Honey Badger didn’t stop there.

Mathieu ended Georgia’s first drive of the second half with a fumble recovery that set up LSU’s go-ahead score.

And his second return might have been better than the first. Shaking past defenders to the left side of the field, Mathieu stopped, stepped and juked through a thick group of Georgia tacklers for a 47-yard return.

Four plays later, LSU had a 21-10 lead.

“When you play as hard as he does, good things do happen to you,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I’ll be honest with you: I enjoy watching the guy play football, other than when he plays against us.”

Mathieu opened the game with a tackle-for-loss, made two touchdown-saving tackles and twice forced Aaron Murray to leave the pocket with pressure on a blitz.

The first time Mathieu saw the video, defensive coordinator John Chavis showed it to his most dynamic player on the way back from LSU’s win over West Virginia.

And Miles said he thinks the video fits Mathieu, at least on the football field.

“On the field, he takes what he wants, or what he can get his hands on,” Miles said, referencing the popular video.

Mathieu’s big game gave him four touchdowns on the season, a huge number for any defensive player. Two weeks in a row, a Mathieu punt return -- he tied the score against Arkansas with a 92-yard touchdown on a punt -- breathed life into a sluggish LSU team.

The Honey Badger, once a forgotten part of the Heisman race, might earn a trip to New York after all.

“I’d definitely be honored to represent LSU as a program and represent my team in New York,” Mathieu said. “So I’m looking forward to it, if the position is there.”

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