Gameday: LSU vs Kentucky

Mascot Mike the Tiger holds up the number one, which happens to be where LSU is ranked in the AP poll this week.
Mascot Mike the Tiger holds up the number one, which happens to be where LSU is ranked in the AP poll this week.

Tigers return home ready to defend No. 1 ranking

Tiger Stadium is noted for being especially raucous and some would say even magical on a Saturday night.

It was after dark when Billy Cannon made his Halloween punt return against Ole Miss, when three punt returns for touchdowns vanquished Archie Manning, when the Tigers extracted revenge on Notre Dame, when Brad Davis stumbled into the end zone against Ole Miss, when the Tigers knocked off No. 1 Florida in 1997 and when they went 5-for-5 on fourth downs to beat the Gators 10 years later.

Sure there have been memorable moments in the daylight - such as the matinee victory against Georgia that was a springboard to the 2003 BCS championship - but when the mystique of Tiger Stadium comes to mind. The images are usually lit by the moon and not the sun.

In fact, since 1960, LSU has won 78 percent of its home games played at night (220-60-4), but just 49 percent (24-25-3) of those played during the day. Since 2000, the disparity has diminished but remained as the Tigers have won 91.5 percent of their night home games (54-5) and 70 percent (14-6) of their day games.

So at least on the surface, the 11:21 a.m. kickoff against Kentucky on Saturday doesn’t appear to be the consummate Tiger Stadium experience. But this latest brunch with the Bengals has some added significance.

It’s 4-0 LSU’s first game since ascending to the No. 1 position in The Associated Press poll.

It’s the Southeastern Conference home opener and the Tigers’ first appearance in front of the home fans in three weeks.

This game is going to end about the same time the tailgating is usually just getting rolling, but it’s still the first chance for the Tiger Stadium community to greet this team since it completed the sweep of the No. 3 team in the country in Dallas, No. 25 in Starkville, Miss., and No. 16 in Morgantown, W.Va..

“We’ve only been home once,” defensive tackle Michael Brockers said, “and coming back home we’re playing a good SEC team so there’s going to be a pretty good crowd.”

Morning kickoffs in Tiger Stadium have been rare during coach Les Miles’ seven seasons. The last one came in 2008 when LSU and Appalachian State kicked off at 10 a.m. to get the game in before Hurricane Gustav threatened the area. The only other pre-noon kickoff under Miles came in 2006 when the Tigers defeated Mississippi State 48-17.

The fans will have to adjust their tailgating routine just as the Tigers will have to adjust their pre-game routine.

“I know I’m not much of a morning guy,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “But no matter what time of the day it is, you’ve got to be ready to play. You’ve got to come with it. (The Wildcats) are not going to come in and take it lightly because it’s 11 o’clock in the morning. They’re going to come to play, so we’ve got to bring it. “

Some players said they like the fact they’re not sitting around a hotel room all day like they have been for the three night games away from home.

“We get a three-hour nap time and we’re sitting around watching other teams on TV and we feel like we’re ready and we want to get out there,” defensive tackle Michael Brockers said, “so playing at 11 o’clock we’re getting up in the morning and we’re not watching anybody because we’re getting ready to play.”

Defensive end Sam Montgomery said he’s never played in a game this early before. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said he used to play pee-wee league games at 10 or 11 a.m.

“Everyone’s excited,” Mathieu said. “It’s like pee-wee football, waking up early and going straight to the park.”

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said the early kickoff might be comfortable for his players, who usually practice early in the day.

“Hopefully that helps,” Phillips said. “I like the fact that we don’t have to sit around the hotel. I like the fact, playing an early game.”

But, Phillips added, once the ball is kicked off the time of day really doesn’t matter.

“Everybody out here wants to see their home team and they know we’re the No. 1 team in the nation,” LSU safety Brandon Taylor said, “so it’s going to be pretty loud in there and everybody is going to have a lot of enthusiasm.

“We’ve been gone a long time, it’s our second home game in five weeks. I think the crowd is ready for us to come back home.”

Rise and shine, Tiger fans. The boys are back in town.