After a disappointing Week 1 game against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, The LSU Tigers returned to Death Valley for the opening home game of the season. The perfect remedy for a tough heart breaking road loss, is a raucous win at home. LSU served it up perfectly by scheduling Jacksonville State for the home opener, an FCS team that lost in the FCS Championship Game last year. LSU on gameday is one of the best environments in sports, and even though the visiting crowd was small, the local support was outstanding, and the 10+ hours leading up to the usual 6:30pm kickoff time was a joy. We started early by making the 80 mile drive to Baton Rouge at 10AM, and with pretty generous traffic were in town before 11:30AM and at Stadium Sports Bar & Grill in the L’Auberge Casino within the hour. There were actually plenty of LSU fans getting in some early afternoon gambling on gameday, but the bar was rather quiet, which was nice considering we still had 6 hours until gametime. The casino showed plenty of love to Louisiana sports, with pictures all around of Drew Brees, Tracy Porter, Pete Maravich, one of my favorite players of all-time Shaquille O’Neal, and other local sports heroes.
After two Andygators and about an hour and a half, we headed out to Tigerland hotspot Fred’s, which conveniently opens at 8AM on gamedays for the rowdy crowd it brings in. At 2PM it wasn’t as rowdy as during the Florida game last year, but was a great stop off along the way to fill up on vodka sodas and watch some more college football. The art of day drinking is an elaborate one, and as Ben Robinson so profoundly spelled out in his definitive guide to day drinking, food is key. Thus, it was time to eat.
Even against an FCS opponent, tailgates were out in full force with fried food, pasta, seafood, and of course the coveted open bar.
The casino tailgate was exactly what the doctor ordered at about 3:30. Unlimited wings? Check. Seafood pasta? Check. Open bar? Check again. With no real rush, and a somewhat subdued crowd, the buffet really was mine to be had. 3 plates of wings and 2 bowls of pasta set a nice base for the day, and the lovely bartenders kept the beers cold and headed my way. Spending a few minutes cooling down on the RV was helpful on what was a long 90 degree day.
Around 5:30PM we headed into Tiger Stadium, one hour before kickoff. It blows my mind that the stadium was built in 1924 because it’s a pretty remarkable place. After routine renovations to add additional seating and modern improvements, the stadium now fits 102,321, making it the seventh largest stadium in the world. The suite was staffed by a bartender and caterer who both made the game a ton of fun, telling us about their kids and friends, laughing at our stories, and making sure that we didn’t run out of alcohol and food, two things Louisiana does perfectly.
Regarding the actual play of the teams, it was pretty ugly early. Brandon Harris, who took a lot of heat for his late interception against Wisconsin, was benched after two series,, and Heisman Award Candidate Leonard Fournette didn’t play because of a sore ankle. Both were smart moves by coach Les Miles, who needed his team to show promise in this last game before conference play, but also needed his best player to get healthy. Derrius Guice started for Fournette and ran for 155 yards. Danny Etling replaced Harris at QB and went 6/14 for 100 yards with 1 td and 1 interception, and while not great either, he did do a great job of managing the game, and led the team to three touchdowns. This seemingly earned him the start next week against No. 19 Mississippi State.
The highlight of the night was the 60-yd punt return touchdown by Tre’Davious White. It was both an exciting play, and one that seemed mind-blowingly idiotic at first, because he ran 21 yards in the WRONG direction. The announcers were perplexed, and the fans that hadn’t already headed to the concessions screamed in horror and joy at the same time. For those who stayed in their seats into halftime as well, LSU had a great halftime show involving the marching band honoring victims of the recent floods in Baton Rouge and other parts of the state. The band came out, formed into the shape of the state, then changed the shape into a heart with the state inside of it. A two to three minute video accompanied it, which was a nice touch.
THE LSU Marching Band did a great job honoring recent Baton Rouge and Lousiana flood victims.
Up 27-10 going into halftime, the fans could now relax, enjoy the third quarter, and get home early as the lead was pretty safe at that point. The next quarter and a half was a mix of Patron, beer, and hot dogs, and a fitting end to a long football Saturday. LSU certainly has a lot of work left to do to finish as a top team in the always tough SEC, but as long as they are playing in Death Valley, the Tigers always have a chance. Currently, four of LSU’s six SEC West opponents are in the AP Top 25, including #1 Alabama. Luckily for Les Miles and the Tigers, that Alabama game is in Baton Rouge on November 5th, but that will still be the biggest test by far of the season. LSU also faces SEC East foes Missouri and Florida, with the latter being on the road in Gainesville. You can view the entire schedule here.
After the game, we walked around outside the stadium for some time and saw the Tiger statue, before heading back to the apartment for the night. We had an early morning coming up, needing to be on the road by 9:30AM to head back to New Orleans for opening day at the Superdome, with the Saints hosting the Raiders. Words of wisdom for those going to a game in the future. Beware postgame traffic. We were actually going to head back to Fred’s for the afterparty, but traffic and detours made the ride an hour and a half, for what is a 30 minute walk. So instead of partying to some “Work” and “Broccoli”, we headed home. I’m not mad though. It was a long first 16 hours.
A 34-13 win was the perfect nightcap for the Tigers home opener.