Same but different: Mathieu mimics Peterson's impact at LSU

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Swear to me Patrick Peterson still isn't playing for LSU.

Swear it.

Because all we saw two weeks ago against Oregon was a player wearing No. 7, Peterson's former number, flying around the Tigers secondary making play after play on defense and wreaking all sorts of havoc on special teams. I could have sworn the Cardinals drafted Peterson with No. 5 overall pick last April, but I didn't become fully convinced there was another player as dynamic as Peterson at LSU until I saw Peterson return a punt for Arizona in Week 1 of the NFL season.

Sophomore CB/S/LB/whatever-you-can-imagine Tyrann Mathieu doesn't just yet present the bravado or swagger Peterson oozed in Baton Rouge. Mathieu is unassuming at 5-feet-9, 175 pounds. He's soft-spoken, shy, humble. Mathieu's bleached blond fro-hawk is the most outrageous aspect of his persona, and he's even letting his hair grow out.

What Mathieu does possess is a ball-hawking penchant many NFL defensive backs wished they were ingrained with. Mathieu said he's not the same player as Peterson, but he exudes many of the same attributes and wears Peterson's No. 7, and it even says in Mathieu's LSU bio that he's taking over for Peterson.

"I'm not [an] angry [player]," Mathieu said. "I think I'm just intense. I just want to be aggressive, physical. I want to dominate my opponent."

Mathieu may not model his game after his former teammate, but Mathieu said Peterson helped him "get it" last summer. Before he ever stepped foot in Tiger Stadium or anywhere else, Mathieu sponged everything he could off Peterson in his one season playing alongside him.

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"Me and Patrick talk about those things all the time [making big plays]," Mathieu said. "To see him do that on the next level definitely means he's arrived. ... I don't model my game after him, but I do take things here and there. He's definitely explosive, and he's definitely one of the most dynamic players on the field."

LSU coach Les Miles has to come up with different ways each week to say the same thing about Mathieu. At least once a week he's asked how Mathieu consistently makes not just plays, but big plays. We all know Miles has a way with words.

"Tyrann anticipates making the play," Miles said. "What play is that? It really is that play that maybe only a guy that thinks he can blitz and be blocked, will chase the ball, catch the ball and strip the ball. It has to be a guy who looks at every piece of the play as an opportunity to enhance his opportunity to make another play.

"He is a guy that sees each opportunity as incredible and tries to throw his body around it. I see it in a number of guys at times. It happens with some regularity with all of our guys. I think it is a pointed focus that Tyrann Mathieu has. I think there are some other guys that are similar in that way, but it is just a little bit more obvious with him."

Says Mathieu: "You've got to stay humble and stay grounded, but you always have to keep your goals in mind. I tend to make my goals almost impossible. I'm just always working harder."

What did he mean by impossible?

"It's more like Heisman, Jim Thorpe [Award]. I just want to be great for my team," Mathieu said.

The most impossible play Mathieu said he has made was when he raked the ball loose from Florida running back Emmanuel Moody from behind late in the first half last season. He then swan dived over Moody's back to recover the loose ball. It pushed LSU to an unexpected win against the Gators in The Swamp.

"I was just like, 'Wow, I really did that,'" Mathieu said.

It's the first and last time Mathieu surprised himself. So recording seven tackles, including a tackle for loss, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one interception, one sack and one pass breakup in last season's Cotton Bowl? Old hat. Eleven tackles along with a game-changing forced fumble on Oregon returner Kenjon Banter, an ensuing fumble recovery and a 3-yard stroll for a score against the Ducks when LSU's off-the-field distractions could have served too daunting to overcome? No biggie.

"I'm really sick of him getting back there before I get back there because I want some sacks," LSU defensive tackle Michael Brokers said; Mathieu already has six sacks through a little over a year at LSU. "He's a tremendous player, amazing guy. Some things that he does are hard to believe."

Mathieu wowed Peterson so much that Peterson walked around Cowboys Stadium after the blowout of Texas A&M with Mathieu propped up on his shoulders like any big brother would when it was time to pass the torch.

And to think that only the most savvy of NFL scouts would be zeroing in on Mathieu had the New Orleans native not been wooed by LSU. Louisiana-Monroe and Florida International were the schools on radar before LSU recruiting guru Frank Wilson discovered him. LSU found the gem while every other top program was asleep at the wheel.

Mathieu said he doesn't point and laugh at the schools that passed on him. His revenge? "I just try make big plays on them," Mathieu said.

Last year around this time, I deemed Peterson the greatest NFL player still in college. He's already made an impression just one week into his NFL career.

I won't go so far as to say that Mathieu is that guy a year removed in a season in which there's a campaign called "Suck for [Andrew] Luck" all over the NFL, even though it's only Week 1.

But give Mathieu a year. He's that good already. Mathieu spoke of setting impossible goals. The only impossibility is thinking Mathieu can't reach something.

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