Tulane safety Darion Monroe has played in plenty of lopsided losses during his college career.
But nothing felt as long or as torturous as the Green Wave’s 65-10 beating at the hands of Georgia Tech last Saturday. And Monroe didn’t even have anything do with it.
That was the most painful part.
The senior captain and unquestioned leader of Tulane’s defense, who hadn’t missed a start since he stepped on campus in 2012, was relegated to an involuntary assistant coach role while serving a one-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
“(The game) felt really long,” Monroe said of being on the sideline. “Very long. They run the option, so it’s supposed to be quick, but it felt like it took four or five hours.”
Monroe and linebacker Eric Bowie, who was also suspended last Saturday, were cleared to return this week, as Tulane prepares to face Maine at 7 p.m. on Saturday night in Yulman Stadium.
Considering Georgia Tech piled up a remarkable 439 rushing yards as part of a 571-yard afternoon, Monroe was rendered helpless for the first time in his Tulane career. Even when the Green Wave had been defeated by lopsided margins in his freshman year (63-10 to Louisiana-Monroe, 39-0 to Ole Miss), those were learning experiences he could take with him to future games.
This was simply a punishment.
“I was very disappointed,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “His leadership has to be better. He’s the mainstay of our defense. We can’t miss a guy like that. We missed him tremendously.
“He’s one of our best tacklers. He’s our quarterback on defense, and he’s played in so many games, so that was a big loss and disappointment.”
More damaging than Monroe’s powerlessness to complete plays on the field may have been his inability to motivate teammates from the sideline. Under Johnson, even in adverse circumstances, the coach has rarely questioned his defense’s effort.
But as Yellow Jackets’ third- and fourth-string offenses continued to pile up yards and points (21 in the fourth quarter), Johnson admitted his team’s energy and effort began to wane as the score became increasingly lopsided.
“I saw some effort go down, and that’s something we need to instill in those guys,” Johnson said. “You got to know when you’re in the game and stay in the game, and you also got to give effort. If you can’t control anything else, you can always control your effort.”
It also served as a lesson to Monroe.
“We had a lot of young guys playing and I could have put them in position to make different plays,” Monroe said. “That’s one thing coach really wanted me to do from the sideline. Now, I see what the coaches go through.”
As another opponent approaches, Monroe said he’s spent enough time beating himself up for the off-field mistake and has turned his attention to how he can help pull Tulane out of its 0-2 hole. The Green Wave has been outscored 102-17 by Duke and Georgia Tech, and any momentum built in August has been dashed by the pair of ACC foes to open September.
He started by meeting with teammates individually to inform them he let them down and accepted responsibility. Now, his leadership needs to translate onto the turf, where Tulane is hoping to walk off victorious for the first time in five games.
“He talked to every guy, not just addressing the team, but approached every person as a man,” Johnson said. “He owned up to it. One thing about this team is that they’re good kids and they’ll own up to it. We definitely need his leadership.”