- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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When Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from LSU, everyone knew his loss would be felt in a big way.
It wasn’t his coverage skills that everyone worried about. It was the fact that he could change a game in the blink of an eye. He had the uncanny ability to make a play from anywhere and send the game soaring in LSU’s favor.
He was dynamic returning the ball -- just ask Arkansas and Georgia -- and he could force a turnover out of nowhere to put a dent in any sort of offensive momentum for one of LSU’s opponents.
We knew Mathieu’s absence would hurt, but it’s become clear that the spark he had for the Tigers is being missed more and more as the season goes on.
As we approach the halfway point of the college football season, the team long thought to be a legitimate national title contender is in search of some sort of jolt that will catapult it back into the title chase. The offense is too much of a mess right now, and points won’t come unless a spark is found.
Who can do his best to pick up where the Honey Badger left off? Right now, it’s hard to find anyone who fits that mold on offense, defense or special teams.
No one can be Mathieu. That’s obvious. But someone has to be able to give this offense -- and this team -- some life. And the way the offense has sputtered along for the past few weeks, it needs it in a hurry or things could really get away from LSU.
Remember, this team didn’t exactly have an explosive offense last season. Having Rueben Randle as a legit deep threat helped, but LSU never scared anyone with its offense. It toppled teams with a wave of momentum that started with a play from Mathieu. Even when LSU’s offense looked pitiful last year, Mathieu saved it. LSU doesn’t have that right now.
There are a few candidates, but I think a lot more has to be put on the plate of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He’s an extremely talented athlete and has the kind of elusiveness and speed that just screams “playmaker.”
We’ve seen flashes from him, but they’ve been in small doses. He had a 70-yard punt return that went for a touchdown against North Texas in the opener and had that five-catch, 128-yard performance against Towson two weeks ago, when he caught touchdown passes of 27 and 53 yards.
After being mired in inconsistency for the first four weeks, we finally saw this young star, who was one of LSU’s best offensive players last year, break out the way people were waiting for. But it didn’t last very long.
Against Florida this past weekend, Beckham was nearly eliminated from the game plan by Florida. He was ineffective returning the ball, totaling 22 yards on four returns, and his only big play on offense actually benefited the Gators.
You know, the 56-yard catch-and-run that he fumbled over to Florida after he decided to challenge Matt Elam instead of staying in stride. That play changed everything for LSU and led to the Gators’ game-winning scoring drive.
With quarterback Zach Mettenberger struggling with just about everything that comes with the position right now, he could really, really benefit from having Beckham be a real star for this team.
Beckham has the speed to be a true deep threat. He’s agile enough to make defenders look silly. And he’s a tough player. He could hurt teams returning the ball or catching it. But he’s just too inconsistent, and Mettenberger can’t find him enough.
Russell Shepard is another player with all the skill to be great, but inconsistency and focus continue to weigh him down when he steps on the field. And LSU just doesn’t appear to have that game-changing defender back there -- at least no one close to having the playmaking skills of the Honey Badger -- but maybe one of those young corners can step up.
Not having that spark has really hurt this team, especially with all of the offensive issues. This offense is not good enough right now. It needs help. Not having that jolt to pick the offense up and put it in good field position doesn’t help. This team is going backward far too much, and it has to find someone who will push it forward.
The enthusiasm and excitement we were used to seeing from the Tigers has been lost. The Honey Badger isn’t coming back, but someone has to give this team some sort of juice if it wants to make another title run.
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