There is a certain lore hanging over night games at Death Valley in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When No. 22 Mississippi State University travels there for their game against No. 9 Louisiana State University, they will search for their 21st win at LSU, and their 36th all time win against the Tigers.
Head coach Joe Moorhead said he is looking forward to his first trip to Death Valley.
“I’m excited that they have the line markers marked off every five yards, I think that’s pretty cool and you don’t see that very often,” Moorhead said. “They have a tiger down there. That’s pretty neat. To me, more than anything, the great thing about college football is the passion of the fan base, particularly in this conference.”
Nick Fitzgerald, senior quarterback from Richmond Hills, Georgia, is one of the players who has experienced Death Valley’s unique environment, and he said it is hard to prepare his teammates for it.
“It is really hard to explain,” Fitzgerald said. “We have been going into practice having the speakers as loud as they can go. I look at them all the time and say, ‘This still is not as loud as it is going to be.’ It is definitely hard to fathom if you have not been around it.”
The fan base is one that is often times noted as crazy, wild and really passionate for the purple and gold of LSU. Moorhead said it is one thing he is really excited to experience.
“I hear they are as good as any and they get fired up,” Moorhead said. “They get after you and they are into the game, and they are going to make a challenging atmosphere. So, I think that is what I’m most excited for.”
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy used speakers to simulate the 90,000 purple-and-gold clad, crazy tiger fans. He said he feels the players have handled this challenge well.
“You put speakers all around us,” Getsy said. “You cannot hear each other talk, so that was a good experience added today. I think the guys really handled it well. That is what it is, teams have to deal with it when they come to our place.”
Although a hostile environment may seem daunting, Getsy expects a phenomenal environment to play in, as well as the offensive players to be ready to play in an environment like LSU.
“We expect an outstanding environment,” Getsy said. “We are going to be prepared for it. You create as much chaos as you can during the week so you can simulate it. It will not be the same, but you simulate it as closely as you can.”
In the game against Kentucky, crowd noise played a part in offensive penalties and miscommunication, so Fitzgerald said they are just mentally preparing for the challenge of the inability to communicate at field level.
“It is always a concern when you cannot hear a guy a foot away from you,” Fitzgerald said. “But, we got a plan and we are going to execute it, and we will be fine. It is one of the greatest atmospheres in college football.”
Aside from handling the crowd noise, the offensive line will be challenged to control the line of scrimmage. The line of scrimmage battle is something Moorhead said is most impressive to him about SEC football.
“Everything has impressed me. It has kind of been as advertised,” Moorhead said. “Two things you are probably sick of hearing me say, ‘It’s a line of scrimmage football league and margin of error is slim.”
Offensive lineman Deion Calhoun, a senior from Pleasant Grove, Alabama, agreed with Moorhead, and said MSU will need to be physical and run the ball well to have offensive success in Saturday's game.
“Just be physical,” Calhoun said. “The game is going to be won in the trenches again. This is very much a line of scrimmage league. The game is going to be won at the line of scrimmage. We just want to keep pounding the rock.”
Fitzgerald had four touchdowns in the 37-7 win over LSU last season. Fitzgerald said there are many ways the Bulldogs can attack the Tigers, as MSU has running backs Kylin Hill and Aeris Williams to run the ball, and many wide receivers to target in the pass game. LSU will have to stop both MSU's pass game and run game to succeed on defense.
“It is a multi-headed offense,” Fitzgerald said. “If they want to shut down one part of it, the other parts are going to show up and beat you there. It is not really shutting down part of it, it is shutting down the whole thing.”
No. 22 MSU (4-2, 1-2 SEC) is coming off a bye week looking for their first win at LSU since 2014, and No. 5 LSU (6-1, 2-1 SEC) is coming off a win over No. 2 Georgia.
Tune in on Saturday to see if the lore of night games in Death Valley holds true, or if MSU overcomes the superstitions.
Kickoff is set for Saturday at 6 p.m. in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. ESPN will broadcast the game.