Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A standout SEC underclassman with a penchant for big plays and a history of getting suspended for flunking drug tests enters the offseason carrying high expectations for the fall but never makes it through the summer before getting dismissed for getting back into trouble.
There’s an interesting twist, though. For once, it wasn’t a Georgia player!
Tyrann Mathieu, last seen not scoring a touchdown in last year’s SEC Championship Game, has been dismissed from the LSU Tigers, reportedly for failing a drug test. This deprives the defending conference champs of one of their most talented and least likable players. (Also, “Honey Badger” is a stupid nickname. There, I said it.)
The loss of Mathieu deprives the Bayou Bengals of 76 tackles, six forced fumbles, and better than 15 yards per punt return, leaving a void in a talented yet comparatively inexperienced Louisiana State secondary. Aside from Tharold Simon, the Tigers now field four freshmen at cornerback.
The greater impact of the Honey Badger’s absence is apt to be on special teams, though no denizen of Bulldog Nation needs to be told so after Mathieu brought back four punts for an average of almost 30 yards per return to turn the tide of a game the Red and Black had dominated for much of the first half.
Of course, the immediate significance of this for the Athenians is less than clear. We would hope that the news would deflate the pervasive meme that the Georgia Bulldogs’ schedule is markedly weaker than that of the South Carolina Gamecocks, whose two SEC West opponents have lost their head coach and their best player, respectively, since the end of last season, but that narrative likely is too entrenched to be dislodged by anything so unpersuasive as mere facts. If it matters on the field for the Classic City Canines at all, it will matter either indirectly (by making the difference between Alabama and Louisiana State representing the Western Division in the Georgia Dome against the Eastern Division champion Bulldogs) or distantly (after a twelve-game regular season culminating in a rematch of the 2011 SEC Championship Game). In other words, there’s way too much football to be played---all of it, as a matter of fact---for us to start hanging banners just yet.
For the moment, the good news is that we’re not the only ones dealing with bad news. Our losses in the secondary may be offset by Missouri’s injuries on the offensive line; our loss of Isaiah Crowell may be offset by LSU’s loss of the Honey Badger. I, for one, give all the credit to Mark Richt’s goatee, secure in the knowledge that, in four previous trips to the SEC Championship Game, Coach Richt has established a pattern, winning the first one in 2002, losing the second one in 2003, winning the third one in 2005, and losing the fourth one in 2011. A fifth visit to the Georgia Dome in 2012 would come at a time when it was the Bulldogs’ turn to win once more, and, with Mathieu no longer on the field, I like our chances at least a little more than I liked them 24 hours ago. It ain’t much, but I’ll take it.