Two college foes took their rivalry to the NFL for the first time as rookies, and for a few plays, it seemed like old times.
Tyrann Mathieu played his first game in over a year for the Arizona Cardinals. The rookie out of LSU was suspended by the school for all of last season for his troubles off the field. The Cards took a chance on the player dubbed as the "Honey Badger" in the 3rd Round of April's NFL Draft.
The Rams traded up in that draft to nab Tavon Austin. The Rams didn't tip their hand much about their plans for the speedster from WVU during the preseason.
Mathieu was known at LSU for his coverage and ability to cause turnovers. One of the few players he ever faced in college that had his number was Tavon Austin. Last time the two played each other in Morgantown, Tavon had 11 receptions for 187 yards with Mathieu being the player from LSU responsible for the coverage.
Knowing the two could line up opposite of each other this weekend, a reporter asked Mathieu his thoughts about Austin.
"He's not a real vertical guy," Mathieu said of Austin. "He kind of works within 10 yards. He's very shifty, very quick. People say he's fast. I think he's more quick than fast. I think if you stay square on him and really get in his face at the line of scrimmage, I think you can challenge him and make things rough on him."
He was matched up on Austin for most of the first half. During one pass, he sped past Mathieu on a go route. Rams' QB Sam Bradford threw it deep. The Honey Badger had to knock Austin down to prevent the big play. Pass interference was called, and Austin had a few choice words for his adversary after the play. That play set up a Rams' field goal.
A little later, Austin caught a pass from Bradford on an out route. Mathieu shoved Austin out of bounds. The two traded barbs again. The dislike between the two was obvious.
In the second half, Mathieu was reassigned elsewhere, but he had an otherwise nice debut. He forced a fumble on what would have been a sure Jared Cook touchdown during the first quarter and ended the game with 7 tackles.
Austin had the second most catches for the Rams with 6, going for 41 yards. He had one carry that went nowhere. For the majority of the game, except for the aforementioned play that ended in a pass interference call, Austin ran short routes.
With the Rams and Cardinals playing in the NFC West, we'll see this Mathieu vs. Austin matchup at least twice a year. As we said before, we've anticipated this weekend for over a year. We didn't think that we would be getting excited about what would have been a random Arizona vs. St. Louis game.