LSU’s football team has been down this road before.
It was almost a year ago that the brawl in the parking lot of a Baton Rouge bar went down and starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson was subsequently suspended for the first four games of the season after initially being charged with felony second-degree battery.
Jefferson was accused of kicking somebody in the face, and everybody wondered at the time whether it would also be a kick in the face to the Tigers’ season.
Well, we all know how things played out. LSU won 13 straight games against a killer schedule before losing to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, and the team was the essence of resiliency.
The Tigers are going to need that same fortitude this season after Friday’s announcement by coach Les Miles that All-American junior cornerback and return specialist Tyrann Mathieu had been dismissed from the team for a violation of team and school policy.
Before anybody says that Mathieu won’t be that big a loss and that he was overrated as a cover cornerback, I say go back and look at how many clutch plays he made, how many times he changed the entire complexion of games with a turnover or punt return and how he was the one who so many times set the tone for LSU's defense.
He was an outstanding college football player and as dynamic a difference-maker on special teams as he was on defense.
As Miles said in his news conference, the Tigers will definitely miss him.
But this was already a team on a mission after last season’s bitter disappointment in New Orleans, a team brimming with strong leadership and a team that has the talent and the wherewithal to overcome a loss like Mathieu.
Even before Friday’s news broke, LSU junior defensive tackle Bennie Logan was raving the day before about the makeup of this team.
“What makes this team so good is that all we know is working hard and working together,” Logan said. “We were wounded by what happened last year in the [national] championship game. Now, it’s just a scar, but it’s a scar that reminds us and motivates us, and we’re not going to let anything get in the way of getting back there and finishing the job this year.”
Don’t underestimate the role Miles plays in these situations, either. We’ve all made fun of his Les-isms and the way he comes across at times, but he’s a master at rallying his team in the face of adversity.
And no matter what you think of his clock management, his offensive game plan last season against Alabama in the title game or the way he wears his cap, he relates well to his players. More importantly, his players play their rear ends off for him.
It also helps that LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has been adamant about playing so many young players and getting guys ready to play.
The Tigers don’t have a proven roamer in the defensive backfield the caliber of Mathieu, but they have plenty of talent. Junior cornerback Tharold Simon was already a more polished cover guy than Mathieu, and Simon needs to show just how good he is this season.
Junior Eric Reid is one of the premier safeties in America and the unquestioned leader back there now.
Chavis was already excited about what redshirt freshman cornerback Jalen Collins and redshirt freshman safety Micah Eugene could add to the equation this season. Their roles just got a whole lot bigger.
Depth at cornerback will be an issue, and taking away a playmaker like Mathieu is a blow to any defense. But these Tigers know the drill.
They’re too talented, too battle-tested and too driven to let one player’s dismissal -- as decorated as that player might be -- sidetrack them from getting back to college football’s biggest stage in January.