STARKVILLE — Nobody is suggesting LSU’s football players transform into superior human beings when the sun goes down Saturdays at Tiger Stadium.
Mississippi State University football coach Dan Mullen feels the Tigers think they do.
Either way, No. 22 MSU (7-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) will enter a daunting situation at 6 p.m. Saturday night (ESPN). Before LSU’s loss to No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, No. 9 LSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC) had won a nation-best 22 consecutive games at home, and had won 48 of its 54 home games under coach Les Miles since the 2005 season.
“I think it becomes a mind-set on their players instead of it being more difficult than a lot of stadiums,” Mullen said Monday in his weekly media conference. “It’s as loud as anywhere you’re going to go play, but it’s the mind-set and the confidence their fans exude on the players that make it tough to go play there.”
LSU’s run includes 13 victories against top 25 teams and perfect home records in 2004, 2006, 2010, and 2011. The Tigers have lost more than one home game in a season twice since 2000.
“It is going to be Saturday night in Tiger Stadium, and our team enjoys playing there,” Miles said Monday in his media conference.
The late Beano Cook, a former ESPN analyst, probably said it best when talking about LSU and its success in night games at Tiger Stadium: “Dracula and LSU football are at their best after the sun goes down,”
Miles is 36-2 in night games at Tiger Stadium. His only losses are to the University of Florida in 2009 and last week to Alabama. Mullen has never beaten LSU in a night game on the road, losing 28-24 in 2007 when he was offensive coordinator at Florida. In that game, top-ranked LSU overcame a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat No. 9 Florida in front of 92,910 fans — then the largest crowd in stadium history — and a primetime CBS national television audience.
“It has turned the knees of All-Americans to goo,” CBS Sports college
football analyst Dennis Dodd wrote in 2009. “It has caused coaches to lose their coaching minds. It only happens at a special space at a special time. LSU can be up, LSU can be down, but LSU’s best weapon remains … sunset.”
In 2010, The Sporting News and Associated Press proclaimed Tiger tailgating and Saturday night in “Death Valley” as the top gameday tradition in college football.
“I’m not sure what it was like to walk into the Coliseum, but I bet it was something like this,” ESPN.com senior writer Wright Thompson wrote about Tiger Stadium.
Every player on MSU’s roster has been alive to see MSU defeat LSU once at Tiger Stadium (a 28-19 victory at night in 1991). MSU has lost 19 of its last 20 in Baton Rouge, La.
Most coaches can point to the noise as the major cause for concern at Tiger Stadium. Once you’re on the field in front of at least 92,542 fans, the ability to communicate — even standing next to someone — is nearly impossible.
“Baton Rouge happens to be the worst place in the world for a visiting team,” Former Alabama coach Paul Bryant said. “It’s like being inside a drum.”
Miles said Monday his team “won every statistical category but the score” Saturday, as Alabama rallied in the final 90 seconds to earn a 21-17 victory.
“I think this team played extremely well and gave great effort that was not rewarded by victory,” Miles said. “I felt Tiger Stadium was a great environment to play in. I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed the crowd. I wished we could have finished for them.”
College football coaches may have to deal with more noise. Earlier this year, LSU unveiled plans to expand the South End Zone of Tiger Stadium. The move would raise the capacity of the venue to more than 100,000. The addition will include approximately 60 suites, 3,000 club seats, and about 1,500 general public seats above the current South End Zone bowl. Construction is slated to begin this year and to be completed prior to the 2014 season.
“Playing at LSU at night is a tough assignment,” Mullen said. “I think you saw (against Alabama) what kind of quality team they are, so I think we’ll have our hands full.”