They call it Death Valley for a reason.
Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., isn’t known for its hospitality toward opposing teams, just ask Alabama linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton.
“I know when we pulled up my freshman year, we pulled up to fans banging on the bus,” Hamilton said. “That environment is very brutal.”
No. 1 Alabama can expect the same welcome when it rolls into Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday night to face No. 15 LSU. In fact, the Crimson Tide is counting on it.
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“It’s my first time playing down there,” Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve heard some crazy things, wild things about their fans and the stadium, so it’s going to be a whole lot of fun and a great opportunity to play down there.”
Those stories Fitzpatrick has been told by his teammates are no exaggeration. During an upset win over Auburn in 1988, Tiger Stadium is said to have registered on a seismograph. That game was played in front of a crowd of roughly 80,000 fans. Tiger Stadium is now the sixth biggest college football stadium in the nation, holding 102,321 fans, coming in right above Bryant-Denny Stadium at 101,821.
"It's always loud,” Alabama tight end O.J. Howard said. “The fans are always into the game, no matter what, what's going on in the game. They're always into it. They're kind of rowdy. It's just really like one of the best experiences you can get, as far as like going to a louder stadium.”
Games against Alabama get even louder, especially since Nick Saban took over the program in 2007. Saban, who spent five seasons with LSU from 2000-04, has yet to be forgiven by the Tiger faithful for switching his allegiances to Alabama. The Tide head coach has since been burned in effigy by LSU fans and is the constant target of vicious chants every time he returns to Baton Rouge.
“It’s probably going to be a different experience,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m going to look at Coach Saban when they’re doing those chants to see what he’s doing. It’s going to be pretty fun.”
While the Tide will look to have its coach’s back Saturday, its main concern will be managing the noise on the field. Alabama offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher said the team works on how to make adjustments at the line during practices and said the Tide should have plenty of options come Saturday if noise becomes an issue.
“I think it helps if you’ve got smart guys on the offensive line who know their assignments and don’t have to hear the center’s call right away to know what’s going on,” Pierschbacher said. “... We’ll just have to be on our P’s and Q’s.”
Alabama also prepares for hostile environments by moving inside its indoor practice facility and pumping in artificial crowd noise.
“I think that’s louder than any stadium we’ve ever been to,” Pierschbacher said. “We’re in the indoor and everything’s really loud. It makes it tough, but definitely a benefit to us.”
Perhaps the person most affected by the noise will be freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, who might need to rest his voice this week before attempting to bark out calls over 100,000 screaming fans. So far this season, Hurts has handled road games relatively well, helping the Tide bounce back at Ole Miss while also recording back-to-back blowouts at Arkansas and Tennessee.
"I think he'll do the same thing he did all year,” Howard said of Hurts. “He's very poised. He doesn't really change his emotions at all, no matter what goes on in the game. But I think he'll be fine."
No matter how well Alabama players handle the noise, handling their own emotions will be equally vital to their success. Having to wait two weeks for the matchup, Tide players are itching to finally get on the field against the Tigers.
“It’s important that we stay poised and know why we’re there and not let the game get too big for us,” Hamilton said. “You don’t win the game the first play, or you don’t win the game with emotion. You win the game with everybody doing their assignment.”
Tony Tsoukalas writes for the Anniston Star. You can write to him at email@example.com
Alabama at LSU
- When: 8 p.m., Saturday
- TV: CBS, 8 p.m.
- Radio: WIOL-FM 95.7, 5 p.m.