LSU linebacker Duke Riley learned he would make his first college start on Thursday, just two days before the Tigers’ game with Louisiana-Monroe. Deion Jones received the same notification Saturday morning — less than 12 hours before kickoff.
Like many of LSU’s backups eagerly awaiting their opportunity, you would never have known if they were even a little nervous about being thrust into the lineup in place of injured starters Kwon Alexander and Lamar Louis.
As they’re expected to do, Riley, a sophomore, and Jones, a junior, ran onto the field and fit right in with the Tigers’ suffocating defense in an easy victory against Louisiana-Monroe.
They did their part in helping LSU chalk up its second consecutive shutout and push its scoreless streak to nine-plus quarters, which covers 31 possessions in a row, in a 31-0 blanking of ULM.
ULM’s offense, which went into the contest averaging 443.0 total yards in its first two games, was held to 93 yards — including a scant 16 rushing yards on 18 attempts — on 12 series.
The Warhawks managed only two plays of 10 yards or longer — passes of 12 and 10 yards — in the game.
LSU coach Les Miles said Monday that both Riley and Jones played “very well,” although he said he expects Louis and Alexander to return for Saturday night’s Southeastern Conference opener with Mississippi State in Tiger Stadium.
“(They did) exactly what they were asked to do,” Miles said. “They did the things, you know, that each call specifically required them to do: Coverage, press the point, hold the point at the point of attack.
“Really, both played very well.”
Riley stepped in for Louis at the strong side spot and recorded a team-high eight tackles, while Jones, who took Alexander’s place on the weak side, was credited with two tackles — one of which was for a loss.
Riley’s total in his starting debut surpassed the number of stops he made during his entire freshman season in 2013, when he played in all 13 games, by one.
While he’ll likely return to his old backup role, his performance told Miles that he can be counted on by his defensive staff when he’s called on again.
“The good news is we’ll look to sub him often,” Miles said. “He knows what he’s doing, he’s comfortable in the position, and he’s talented. I think you could see him taking more snaps.
“There is depth and freshness there if we turn to other guys at linebacker.”
A four-star recruit by ESPN.com a year ago, Riley was the Class 2A defensive player of the year in 2012 when he led John Curtis Christian School to the state title. He finally got a chance to show why Saturday night.
“Duke was flying around, and he made a lot of tackles,” Jones said.
Jones, who has played more extensively as a backup in his first two seasons, noted that he and Riley got a lot of help from senior D.J. Welter, who lined up between the two first-time starters.
“D.J. helps us out a lot,” Jones said. “He holds a real high standard for all of us, and he’s a big leader in the linebackers room.”
Defensive tackle Christian LaCouture was certainly impressed by the play of Riley and Jones.
“You could see those guys were really excited to get on the field and play,” LaCouture said. “Those guys are athletic freaks and you got to see them make plays. I always see it in practice, so it’s nothing new to me. … Those are two great athletes that really make this defense that much better.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.