LSU’s biggest game of the season is finally on the horizon as the Tigers will host No. 1 Alabama on Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Tiger Stadium.
ESPN’s College Gameday will be setting up in the quad, CBS is airing the game on its one allotted Southeastern Conference night game of the season and both teams are playing for a potential spot in the College Football Playoff.
The stakes couldn’t be any higher for a rivalry game, meaning LSU head coach Ed Orgeron’s calls to “block out the noise” are as important as ever.
But there’s a limit to how much noise any person – especially a young athlete ahead of the highest stakes games of their life up to this point – can realistically block out.
“This Is why you work so hard when your 12, 13 years old,” said LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. “A lot of people don’t have this opportunity. I’m very honored to have it. This is why you play football.”
LSU hasn’t defeated Alabama since the 2011 regular season game dubbed “The Game of the Century,” which ended with the Tigers defeated Alabama 9-6 in overtime.
Since then the Tigers have lost seven straight, a fact that Orgeron and his team try not to think about when preparing for the Crimson Tide.
“No, that’s not really (on our mind),” said LSU linebacker Michael Divinity. “The only thing really on our mind in all our phases is winning this game.”
This game means everything to both of these teams, but for some players this rivalry is more personal than others.
Running back Nick Brossette has watched LSU take on Alabama for his entire life. Before becoming a Tiger himself, he went to plenty editions of the LSU-Alabama rivalry, many of which the Tigers won including the 2011 overtime thriller and the 2010 thriller in which Rueben Randle caught a 75-yard touchdown pass.
“I remember all that,” Brossette said. “All those games were crazy.
“We’re just going to treat it like it’s another game. Obviously we’re excited. It’s a big time rivalry, the best one in college football. I’m excited and thrilled just to be a part of this. I can’t wait to go, and I’m sure my teammates can’t wait to go either.”
Others on the team, like quarterback Joe Burrow, may not have grown up with the rivalry entrenched in their DNA, but they know how big this game is and what it means to fans and the state of Louisiana as a whole.
Growing up in Ohio and spending his first collegiate years with Ohio State, Burrow mostly concerned himself with some of the sport’s midwestern rivalries.
But now that he’s a Tiger, he’s looking forward to stamping his name into the history books and lore that the LSU-Alabama rivalry comes with.
“I always knew it was a big game,” Burrow said. “I didn’t live down here so I wasn’t engulfed in the culture or the rivalry like I was in Ohio. But I’m excited for it. I know how much it means to Louisiana and the fans. One thing you can bet on is I’m going to give it my all.”
Burrow added that keeping emotions in check for a game this big will prove to be difficult, especially on Saturday night when fans start rolling into the sold-out Tiger Stadium.
“It is tough,” Burrow said. “You really have to manage your emotions in a game like this because if you don’t, the game kind of gets too big for you. Then you start not focusing on the game plan and start focusing on what the game means. Then you try to do too much.”
LSU coach Ed Orgeron said he put it on himself to make sure his athletes don’t put to much stake in the outcome of this game.
Everybody wants to win, and the stakes are as high as they get, but in the end, it’s just a football game.
“I know and everybody knows how big this game is for the state of Louisiana, for our football team,” Orgeron said. “But I am not going to make it bigger than life that our guys can’t handle it. We’re going to approach this game, we’re not going to say it’s like every other game, we understand this is ‘the’ game. But we’re going to approach every day like we’ve done. We’re not going to change our process.”
But Burrow thinks the Tigers won’t have much trouble keeping emotions in check.
This is far from the first big game the Tigers have played this season.
They went to Dallas for an opener against Miami, they hit the road for a game against Auburn and they played then No. 2 Georgia in the most emotionally charged game most of LSU’s players have ever experienced.
In all three of those games, the Tigers came out composed and took early leads on their way to a big victory. That’s how Burrow sees things playing out this Saturday, as well.
“We’ve been underdogs in quite a few games this year, and we’ve won most of them” Burrow said. “I think we’ve won every game we were an underdog in. You don’t really think about that. You just think about what you need to do to win the game.”
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