ATLANTA – The “Honey Badger” doesn’t care when his team struggles.
He just takes what he wants.
In this case, it’s a trip to the national championship game.
Tyrann Mathieu turned in an MVP performance when the No. 1 Tigers needed him most. He ran back a punt 62 yards for a touchdown, set up another score with a fumble recovery and finally finished off No. 12 Georgia with his best play yet – a whirling dervish of a return that led to the decisive TD in a 42-10 victory in the Southeastern Conference title game Saturday.
LSU (13-0) advanced to a spot in the BCS championship game in New Orleans, just 75 miles from its Baton Rouge campus. The Tigers opponent will be announced tonight, but SEC West rival and No. 2 Alabama – already beaten by the Tigers 9-6 in overtime a month ago – had the inside track even though it didn’t win its division.
The Bulldogs (10-3) raced to a 10-0 lead that could’ve been even bigger if they hadn’t dropped a pair of potential touchdown passes in the first quarter. LSU looked downright awful on offense, going three-and-out on all seven of its possessions before halftime.
The Tigers didn’t even have one first down, finishing the half with just 12 total yards.
But, thanks to Mathieu, the deficit was only 10-7 when the teams went to the locker room. He fielded a punt at his own 38, found an opening and was gone – all the way to the end zone for his second punt return for a touchdown in as many weeks. He had a 92-yarder that sparked a win over Arkansas.
Well, almost to the end zone. A replay showed Mathieu flipped the ball to an official just before he crossed the goal line, but no one on the field caught the blunder.
“I’ll have to remember not to do that next time,” he said with a smile.
That was long forgotten by the time he was done. On Georgia’s first possession of the second half, quarterback Aaron Murray tried to scramble for a first down but had the ball knocked loose just before he hit the turf.
Mathieu was there to fall on it at the Bulldogs 26 for his fifth fumble recovery of the season, then LSU quickly seized its first lead.
The Tigers finally picked up a first down before freshman Kenny Hilliard broke off a 15-yard run for the first of his three touchdowns.
LSU took control with a 21-point third quarter, coming back from a double-digit deficit for the second week in a row.
The Tigers romped in the final period. Alfred Blue broke off a 48-yard touchdown run and Morris Claiborne returned an interception 45 yards for the final score. LSU left little doubt it’s the best team in country heading into bowl season. The Tigers have knocked off five teams in The Associated Press’ current Top 25 – including three of the top eight. They’ll still have to win one more game to claim the BCS title, but they could still be voted No. 1 in the final AP poll, no matter what happens Jan. 9 in the Big Easy.
LSU head coach Les Miles, as least for public consumption, said he looks forward to a rematch with the Tide, a game that will ensure the SEC of its sixth straight national champion.
“I would certainly understand if college football decides it should be two SEC teams playing for the national championship,” he said. “It’s a very special conference with very special teams.”