“I called on the leadership of this team to understand that these things happen,” Miles said
The 20-year-old Mathieu won the Bednarik Award as national defensive player of the year last season and was a big-play machine at cornerback and special teams. The All-American scored four touchdowns — two on punt returns and two on fumble returns — intercepted two passes, caused six fumbles and recovered four.
LSU went 13-0 on its way to the BCS title game, and it seemed every time the Tigers needed to a game-changing play, Mathieu delivered.
The best examples came in the Tigers’ final two victories. Against Arkansas to end the regular season, LSU trailed 14-7 when Mathieu brought back a punt 92 yards for a touchdown late in the first half.
The next week in the SEC title game against Georgia, the Bulldogs led 10-0 when Mathieu scored on a 62-yard punt return.
But as good as Mathieu was, LSU showed it could get by without him. He was suspended for the Auburn game and the Tigers won 45-10. The Tigers also dealt with several suspensions early in the season, but nothing slowed them down until they lost the BCS championship game against Alabama.
“He gave us a lot of examples that we can learn from and I think that he’s a quality, quality guy who had a behavior issue and that’s it,” Miles said. “Certainly the overview of his time with us is positive.”
Mathieu, a New Orleans native, has two years of eligibility left and could transfer, but he would have to sit out this season if he went to another school in major college football. If he moved down a level, to FCS, he could play right away.
LSU isn’t quite as deep at cornerback as it was last season, when it had All-American Morris Claiborne and often used Mathieu as a nickel back. Tharold Simon is the other starter opposite Mathieu. Second on the depth chart are redshirt freshman Jalen Collins and freshman Jalen Mills.
Even without the Honey Badger, LSU is loaded with talent.
Last season, LSU beat Alabama 9-6 in a regular-season matchup dubbed the Game of the Century. The two SEC rivals met again in the national championship but this time the Crimson Tide dominated, winning 21-0.