LSU embraces Georgia hostility for opening game at opponent’s home
“You choose to come to LSU to look forward to playing in a game Between the Hedges, nationally ranked. Our guys are looking forward to it, know it’s going to be a great environment.” LES MILES, LSU coach
LSU is already a third of the way through its football season, and the Tigers are just now preparing to play in an opponent’s home stadium for the first time.
After opening the season with a neutral-site game against TCU in Cowboys Stadium, LSU played three straight games in Tiger Stadium.
But the first Saturday of autumn brings this team’s first taste of big-time Southeastern Conference football away from home: No. 6 LSU at No. 9 Georgia on national TV with ESPN’s Gameday show emanating from Athens, Ga., for the marquee game of the weekend.
“You choose to come to LSU to look forward to playing in a game Between the Hedges, nationally ranked,” Tigers coach Les Miles said Monday at his weekly news luncheon. “Our guys are looking forward to it, know it’s going to be a great environment.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun. We’ve been there before. We certainly recognize the venue. We’ll look forward to competing against the best.”
This is the eighth straight time that LSU and Georgia have been ranked when they’ve met. The Tigers won the last regular-season meeting 20-13 in Sanford Stadium in 2009. The last meeting between the teams came in the 2011 SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, and LSU won 42-10.
“It’s definitely going to be really loud,” linebacker D.J. Welter said. “Ever since you’re a kid you hear about Between the Hedges and going to Georgia to play the Bulldogs.
“It’s a pretty cool experience playing in other teams’ stadiums. It’s loud, and you try to get that momentum swing and take it away from them. There’s nothing like winning a game in an opponent’s stadium — especially in the SEC.”
LSU’s first SEC game against a ranked opponent didn’t go so well last season. After starting the season 5-0 against unranked teams, including a 12-10 victory on the road against a sub-par Auburn team, the Tigers visited No. 10 Florida in early October and lost 14-6.
Only seven players expected to start for LSU on Saturday started at Florida last season, making this a milestone for them.
“I think there’s a really strong group of veterans,” Miles said. “The young guys that are developing with experience understand what it’s going to take to win in a tough environment. I think it will be a great challenge to them. I think they’re looking forward to it. I’m really kind of looking forward to it myself.”
One of those veterans — senior safety Craig Loston — said he has some advice for the younger players.
“I’d tell those guys to stay focused and have fun at the same time,” Loston said. “You don’t want to be tense out there. It’s an important game, and you want to be confident in the things you’ve got to do, and have fun at same time.”
Fullback J.C. Copeland remembers the first SEC road game in which he played a prominent role. It was a 19-6 victory at Mississippi State two years ago.
Though there were only 56,924 fans on hand for that game, compared with the 92,000-plus that will be in Georgia’s much larger stadium Saturday, State was ranked No. 24, and the Thursday night ESPN broadcast was a huge deal in Starkville.
“I remember my heart was beating like a drum,” Copeland said. “It was tearing up my chest. I was thinking I’d be OK once I got that first hit out of the way. When that first hit happened, I thought, ‘If that’s what it’s going to be like all night, that’s cool.’”
Copeland said the reaction he got back in Baton Rouge was pretty cool too.
“I remember people telling me I played good and that they highlighted me (on ESPN),” Copeland said.
“I said, ‘I like that.’ From then on, I started playing a bigger role. And things took off from there. It was a great experience.”
LSU is certainly used to crowd noise, but this is the first time this season the Tigers will be in a place where that many people will be trying to impair what they’re doing with loud noise.
Miles said even though LSU was well represented in the stands in Cowboys Stadium, that game away from home was still helpful for this week because, “The regimen will be comfortable.
“We have really week-in and week-out prepared for the road in terms of music, noise, et cetera,” he said.
LSU had three false start penalties last week when the Tiger Stadium crowd was doing its best not to be disruptive.
“We really have to eliminate those penalties if we’re going to be a championship team,” guard Vadal Alexander said. “That’s definitely something we need to work on this week.”
Overall, though, Alexander said the crowd noise and the hostile environment shouldn’t be a detriment to LSU’s performance.
“At the end of the day it’s just you versus your man, one on one,” Alexander said. “There’s going to be all that outside hype about a big SEC game on the road.
“But once you step on the field, it’s the same as going out to our practice field every day at 2 p.m.”
This is just the first campus visit for LSU, which still must travel for games at Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama.
“This is why I came here,” wide receiver Jarvis Landry said, “to play against that Georgia team, that Alabama team — the teams, the defenses and the games that you base your and your team’s success off of.”