Three days after the most frustrating day of his career ended in jubilation, safety Darion Monroe still had not come to terms with his ejection in the second quarter of Tulane’s 31-24 win at Houston on Saturday.
Following Tuesday’s practice in preparation for Memphis, Monroe took direct aim at the targeting rule that forced his departure.
“Football is a physical game,” he said. “That’s why we play it. That’s why we signed up, so I don’t understand these rules. I can understand a 15-yard penalty, but kicking a person out, you’re punishing them too much. It’s bad because there’s no call on the offensive side of the ball where they can get put out.”
Monroe, a junior safety who has started every game in his three years at Tulane, was the second Green Wave player ejected for targeting in two weeks. He joined defensive end Tyler Gilbert, who was forced out of the Cincinnati game early in the first quarter.
The rule, which went into effect at the start of the 2013 season, requires an automatic replay booth review to determine if the call is legitimate.
While Gilbert’s offense was obvious helmet-to-helmet contact on quarterback Munchie Legaux, Monroe’s was less clear. His helmet inadvertently hit the facemask of Houston receiver Deontay Greenberry as he tried to put his shoulder into Greenberry’s chest after a pass sailed by both of them.
When the replay official refused to overturn the call, Tulane lost its third-leading tackler and spiritual leader, leaving coach Curtis Johnson confused by the varying interpretations of what constitutes targeting.
“I’m definitely biased because I lost two of my best players in two weeks because of it,” Johnson said. “I’d just like us to have a cleaner definition of all of it, just to make sure we’re doing all of the right things. We need to go into the offseason and re-evaluate the rule to make sure we’re getting accomplished what it’s supposed to accomplish.”
Even Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee, who is protected by the targeting rule, questioned the call.
“It’s tough,” Lee said. “It just seems like every time you’re hitting someone hard, they are getting flagged. The rule — it’s cloudy. The refs have to do the best they can. It looked like Debo (Monroe’s nickname) just kind of ran into him, maybe. I don’t know what they saw. Hopefully, they can make it more clear to the players and the coaches so they can teach it better.”
On the field, Monroe maintained his outward composure, and that poise may have contributed to Tulane’s victory. The Green Wave led 14-7 when he was ejected before the midpoint of the second quarter and ended up winning by seven points.
A week earlier, Gilbert took him helmet off in anger and stomped around the field before walking to the locker room at Yulman Stadium. The defense looked rudderless for the rest of the first half as Cincinnati went ahead 24-0.
“You could just see it,” Johnson said. “They were coming off the field and reacting like it was the end of the world. This stuff isn’t the end of the world. This time, I heard them say, ‘Next man up. Let’s go.’ In a week, they learned how you have to come back and how you have to respond.”
Monroe knew how to act.
“When your coaches look at you as one of the leaders on the defense, you’ve got to be calm in front of your teammates,” he said. “You can’t get them bothered.”
Maintaining his composure became more difficult once he left the field. Required by rule to head to the locker room, he had no way to watch the Wave (3-6) complete its emotional victory that halted a three-year-long losing streak outside of Louisiana.
“There were no TVs in the locker room,” he said. “It was hard. I was pacing. I was trying to look at my phone and get the GameCast. I was texting my mom in the stands, and they didn’t have any (cell phone) service in the locker room, either.”
He had to settle for listening to the stadium’s public address announcer, and even then it was tough to determine who had the ball.
At least Monroe sneaked out of the locker room to take a peak at the final play, watching redshirt freshman Parry Nickerson’s fourth-down interception at the goal line. He then ran on to the field and grabbed the eventual American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
“I said good job,” Monroe said. “Big players make big plays, and he’s doing that this year as a freshman.”