Over the past season and a half of Georgia football, fans of the team have acquired a reputation for traveling well. Bulldog supporters have regularly filled far-away stadiums over the past year and change — most notably against Notre Dame at the beginning of last season — neutralizing opposing teams’ home-field advantages.
When No. 2 Georgia travels to Baton Rouge to take on No. 13 LSU in Death Valley this Saturday, that is not likely to be the case.
“They’re not going to be giving away home tickets,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I can promise you that.”
Smart has a good deal of personal experience with the Tigers and their notoriously rowdy fan base.
As a defensive back for Georgia, Smart was a part of the team that went into Baton Rouge and beat then No. 6 LSU in its own stadium 28-27 in 1998. Smart, who led the team in tackles and pass breakups in that game with 12 and two respectively downplayed the performance when asked about it in a Monday press conference.
But his players did not shy away from the fact that Smart’s playing experience in one of the most hostile stadiums college football has to offer has been an advantage in their preparation for this year’s game.
“He’s got the experience and he’s been through it,” tight end Isaac Nauta said. “He keeps it very black and white for you. You know what to expect, and he doesn’t lie to us about what things are going to be like, and he can’t because we know he’s been through it.”
Smart also knows what it’s like on the home sideline in Death Valley, having served as defensive backs coach for the Tigers under Nick Saban in 2004.
Though he eventually moved on to spend several years at rival Alabama, Smart had nothing but positives to say about LSU and its fan base, calling the school an “incredible place to coach and recruit.”
“I can remember going to my areas within the state, and you’re very well received,” Smart said of recruiting in-state players while at LSU. “You’re really the only major university in the state. You’re in the SEC. So when you go out recruiting, it’s not really recruiting as much as it is figuring out who the best players are and go get them.”
When Smart returns Saturday as the head coach of the Bulldogs, his reception is not likely to be quite as friendly.
LSU holds one of the biggest home-field advantages in the NCAA, and the Bulldogs have been preparing for it. Nauta said practices this week have included artificial crowd noise in an effort to simulate what Saturday’s conditions might be like. He said the loudest environment he’s ever played in was Jordan-Hare Stadium a season ago against Auburn, Georgia’s only regular season loss on the year.
It’s a result Nauta does not hope to replicate.
“You can’t let the crowd get to you in those moments,” he said. “You’ve got to stay on top of your assignments and know what you’ve got to do throughout the week in preparation to make sure that if you can’t hear when you’re in there that you still know how to communicate.”
For the most part the Georgia players are looking forward to the game, despite the expected hostile conditions. Through six weeks, the Bulldogs have won every contest by at least 14 points, and most of the starters have yet to play in the fourth quarter of most of the team’s games due to the score.
The upcoming road meeting with the Tigers will be Georgia’s first true test of the year.
“It’s going to be a great environment, and it’s going to be a hard-nosed game,” Bulldogs wide receiver Terry Godwin said. “That’s what you come to the SEC for, to play games like this. It’s going to be a great game.”