For two long days, LSU weakside linebacker Deion Jones couldn’t bear to watch the play that resulted in his ejection late in Saturday’s blowout of Auburn.
Yet, Jones, LSU’s leading tackler through two games, knew the error of his ways long before the Tigers gathered Monday afternoon to review the tape of their 45-21 thrashing.
Jones, a senior who was making just his third collegiate start, knew as soon as he was flagged for targeting quarterback Jeremy Johnson the penalty carried an automatic suspension for the first half of the Tigers’ next game on Saturday at Syracuse.
Jones also knew that because coach Les Miles and his staff have preached proper tackling technique, and they emphasized it even more when the NCAA implemented the targeting rule in 2013.
“Coach Miles told me I have to be smarter with my hat placement,” said Jones, the first LSU player to be ejected for targeting. “I made a mistake; those are the consequences and I have to learn from it.
“If it’s close, the officials have to call it,” he said. “Those guys did their job and I have to live with it. I can’t be mad at anybody for doing their job. … At first, I was upset because no one wants to get kicked out of a game like that. But you have to accept it and move on from it.”
It means Jones, who said he was just playing fast and didn’t intentionally hit Johnson with his helmet, will relinquish the starting job he fought hard for three years to earn — for at least one half — when No. 8 LSU (2-0) faces Syracuse (3-0) in the Carrier Dome.
“We have people who can play and do the same things I do,” Jones said of having to sit out. “I just can’t wait until the third quarter.”
While Miles wouldn’t identify a starter during his weekly news conference Monday, the likely candidates to replace Jones are junior Duke Riley or senior Lamar Louis.
Louis has 15 career starts, 10 of them at strongside linebacker last season, while Riley has started just once.
Under new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, LSU has employed the nickel package — which calls for just two linebackers — for the majority of its snaps. Kendell Beckwith has manned the middle with Jones on the weak side.
While Riley and Louis have seen limited action, especially in the first game at Mississippi State, Jones and others are confident in their ability to step in with no drop-off. Sophomore Donnie Alexander could also be in the mix.
“Oh yeah, absolutely, I have more than enough trust in them,” Jones said. “Coach Steele is going to make sure everybody’s together. I’ll be pushing them, but they have the same skill set to do the same things I do.”
Riley said the coaches rotated several players in and out at Jones’ spot in Monday’s practice, which means any of them could start alongside Beckwith.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be me for sure,” Riley said. “It could be me, it could be Donnie, it could be Lamar. Whoever it is will go out there and continue to have great effort and do whatever we can to make the team better.”
“Deion has been doing great for us, and he’s done everything we’ve asked,” Louis said. “We just have to be the next man up for the time being. There’s really no pressure; we just have to go in there and do what we do.”
Defensive end Tashawn Bower said LSU has enough quality depth, especially with Riley and Louis, to make up for the first-half loss of Jones, who is also a valued special teams player. He’s on the kickoff and punt teams.
“Deion’s been making a lot of plays for us,” Bower said. “I think he doesn’t get recognized enough for what he does, but he’s a big contributor. We’ll miss him that first half, but we’ve got guys that can step up and do a good job.”
“It’s a pain to have a quality player now standing on the sideline,” Miles said, “but I think it’s a quality rule and I would want that rule enforced as it was.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.