Georgia traveled to Columbia, South Carolina, earlier this season, but the upcoming road matchup at LSU brings a hostile environment that no one on the team, other than the coaching staff, has experienced.
The Bulldogs haven’t played at Tiger Stadium in 10 years. Head coach Kirby Smart is one of the few who has experienced the stadium, or “Death Valley” as it’s known around college football. Smart played in the 1998 game between the two teams, when Georgia won, 28-27.
But the road trip is important for a few reasons. For one, it’s Georgia’s first against a top-15 team. Second, LSU has already sold out tickets and, according to a report from The Advocate, the campus is expecting one of the largest gameday crowds ever in recent history.
“Incredible atmosphere. They have a great fan base,” Smart said. “It’s one of the loudest places in the country to play.”
In road environments like this, Georgia and its coaching staff are focused on staying composed in high-pressure situations. Junior tight end Isaac Nauta said the team has used artificial crowd noise, and on Oct. 9 the team played Garth Brooks’ “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” a song that is frequently played at Tiger Stadium.
I’m excited to see how guys react, respond to the pressure and respond to this big stage of play.
-Natrez Patrick, senior linebacker
Nauta said the best way to deal with a situation like this is through preparation.
“Stay composed, you can’t let the crowd get to you in those moments,” Nauta said. “You’ve got to stay on top of your assignments and know what you’ve got to do throughout the week of preparation to make sure that if you can’t hear, you still know how to communicate.”
While preparation is the focus for many, some are looking forward to seeing how players respond to the adversity a tough road environment like this could bring.
As a senior, Natrez Patrick has seen many tough venues. He’s never been to LSU, but he said he is ready for the opportunity, hoping his fellow teammates are as well.
“I feed off pressure,” Patrick said. “I can’t wait. I’m excited to see how guys react, respond to the pressure and respond to this big stage of play. I can’t wait.”
Smart looks at the situation a little differently. He’s seen LSU’s environment as a Georgia player in college, but also as a coach, since he was on Nick Saban’s staff in 2004.
To him, each road environment in the SEC presents its own challenge.
“At the end of the day, loud is loud,” Smart said. “You cannot hear anything in that stadium. You can’t hear anything in a lot of SEC stadiums. We’ve got to go out and execute … We can’t let it be a distraction for us.”