BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU’s victory against Syracuse did not come without a loss. Perhaps a serious one.
In the midst of the Tigers’ 35-26 win, the team lost starting safety John Battle, who suffered a stinger and did not return to the game. Afterward, LSU coach Ed Orgeron said the injury will not require surgery, but he also offered no timetable for his return.
Battle, a junior, is LSU’s veteran in the secondary. His injury follows a knee injury suffered by Ed Paris, who Battle was honoring on Saturday with the safety’s name scribbled on his wristbands.
“We’re thin back there,” Orgeron said in his postgame news conference when talking about the Tigers’ secondary.
Redshirt freshman Eric Monroe replaced Battle as LSU’s safety. In the Houston native’s first significant action, he registered 3 tackles. In the process, he inherited a mighty responsibility, the task of being another inexperienced contributor in what has become a secondary that has undergone a youthful infusion.
Battle represented the veteran of the group, and in his absence, Monroe must follow the team-wide mantra of “next man up.”
“That’s big,” LSU defensive end Rashard Lawrence said of Battle’s injury, “but it’s ‘next man up.’ We got a lot of defensive backs that want to prove themselves, so ‘next man up.’ He [Monroe] is smart, he’s intelligence, and the biggest thing is eye discipline. I think we’ll be fine. We have a lot of 5-star guys waiting on their turn, so ‘next man up.’ And with John down, Eric has to step up and keep going out there and battling.”
The choice of words is fitting, to say the least.
Monroe played two quarters in place of Battle, his most action during his time at LSU. Behind the scenes, he’s been making plays in practice for years.
Devin White is anxious to see what the LSU defense will do with Monroe playing center field next Saturday at home against Troy. If practice is any indication, the linebacker hinted turnovers could be on the menu.
“When someone is down, you can’t blink,” said White. “You need to show why you’re at LSU, so when someone goes down, it’s your time to shine. He [Monroe] had some good plays. He’s always in the right spot at the right time, and if he does that he’ll make plays. He’s a big hitter and he makes big plays, and his effort is phenomenal. He gets a lot of turnovers. Me and him, we strip the ball in practice, so you can’t really complain about him.”
“Hopefully,” he added, “when it’s his time next, he’ll be ready.”
It’s been that time for several members of LSU’s 2016 recruiting class, including defensive standouts such as Lawrence and White, who are starting this season at defensive end and linebacker, respectively.
That class, which ranked No. 2 in the country, also produced starters such as Greedy Williams, Drake Davis and Stephen Sullivan, who each played significant roles or started in the Tigers’ victory over Syracuse.
Members of the 2016 class have been thrust into key roles early on. Most have been up to the challenge.
Davis has lined up against Monroe in practice for going on two years. The sophomore wide receiver — who caught his second career touchdown pass against the Orange on Saturday — believes competition yields results, which should work in Monroe’s favor.
“Eric works hard and I like to see him out there,” said Davis. “We’re from that same class — the best class ever — so he just needs to keep working hard. The coaches don’t look past hard work or people making plays, so if he keeps making plays and working hard, he’s got it. Eric is a great player and that’s all that it takes.”
With no word on how quickly Battle can return to the lineup, odds are that Monroe will make his first career start against Troy next Saturday.
Monroe will join fellow first-year starters Grant Delpit (safety) and Kary Vincent Jr. (nickel) in LSU’s starting secondary, as well as Williams. That leaves junior Donte Jackson as the new unquestioned veteran of the group.
Like Monroe, Williams — a redshirt freshman — understands what it’s like to be thrust from a reserve to a starter. It’s not foreign to several of the Tigers’ defensive backs, so it shouldn’t make for a rough transition for Monroe.
“In practice every day, we tell guys that if someone goes down, to be ready,” said Williams. “Eric is a good player, so when it comes to film, he needs to be more serious and we will be good. It’s no difference, but John is a vet, so he knows how to disguise coverages and stuff. Eric is a new guy, but we’ll stay together and trust in Eric. He can ball and we’ll see how he does the next game.”