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AU players ready for rowdy LSU

By Ross Dellenger
sports@decaturdaily.com ∑ 340-2460

AUBURN — Eric Brock remembers the bus shaking.

Josh Thompson hasn't forgotten the bottles that people hummed at him or the spit aimed at his head.

Pat Lee still sees the image of a chubby guy mooning him.

"They've been telling me a lot of stories," Auburn linebacker Craig Stevens said. "I heard a story about an 80-year-old woman mooning them a couple of years ago."

A road trip to LSU's Tiger Stadium is anything but dull. Stories of Auburn's game in Baton Rouge, La., two years ago have spread through the locker room this week.

Veteran players are preparing those first-timers for an experience unlike any other when No. 18 Auburn (5-2, 3-1 SEC) visits No. 5 LSU (6-1, 3-1) on Saturday night at 8.

"I heard the fans are some of the rowdiest fans in the country," Auburn sophomore running back Ben Tate said. "It's loud. It's going to be a hostile place to play."

Tate, like many Auburn players, has never played in Tiger Stadium, where LSU has won 24 straight night games. Auburn hasn't won in the 92,400-seat arena since 1999, coach Tommy Tuberville's first year.

Following the upset victory, Tuberville and a group of players lit up cigars just off the field, launching what is now a heated rivalry.

When Auburn returned to Tiger Stadium in 2001, LSU students wore shirts that read "Smoke this, Tuberville" on the front. On the back was a picture of a clinched hand with its middle finger raised.

"Their fans are intense," said Brock, a second-string safety. "They are in your face, yelling, saying everything, talking about your coaches, talking about you."

A little criticism from fans is normal on road trips, especially in the SEC. But LSU fans are, by far, the most critical. A starting defensive tackle, Thompson said he was spit on as he emerged from the visiting tunnel two years ago in Baton Rouge.

"This is the most crazy environment I've ever been to," he said.

Decatur High grad Jerraud Powers is making his first trip to Tiger Stadium. Powers' uncle and grandfather are traveling to Baton Rouge for the game.

"I told them if y'all come, y'all better be careful because these LSU fans are diehard about their football," said Powers, a starting cornerback for Auburn.

About two hours before kickoff, throngs of LSU fans line the road that encircles the stadium for their version of Auburn's Tiger Walk.

Normally before the LSU bus arrives, the visiting team's buses drive through the hordes of crazed fans.

By the time the buses emerge from the sea of purple and gold, they are covered in everything from food to beer.

"It was hectic," Brock said recalling his trip in 2005. "I remember the bus shaking."

LSU's fans are one thing, but the stadium itself is another.

Similar to Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Tiger Stadium's first row of seating is extremely close to the sidelines, so close, that photographers on the field have to kneel at all times to allow fans to see.

Built in 1924, Tiger Stadium's seats are constructed at a steep angle, increasing the volume of an already loud environment.

Former Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant once said being in Tiger Stadium is like being "inside a drum."

But Auburn players don't mind playing in hostile environments. In fact, Tuberville said earlier in the week that they "enjoy going down and playing in Baton Rouge."

He's right, and Auburn's eight-game conference road winning streak proves it.

"It gets me hyped up," Thompson said.

Said Tate: "I thrive off stuff like that. Once we go down there and come back with a win and hear those fans silent, I am going to love it."

No. 18 Auburn (5-2, 3-1 SEC)
at No. 5 LSU (6-1, 3-1)

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.

Line: LSU by 101/2.

TV/radio: ESPN will carry television coverage. The radio broadcast can be heard on FM-106.1, FM-95.9, FM-98.3 and AM-1230.

Players to watch: Defensive end Quentin Groves should play for the first time since dislocating his toes in Auburnís win at Florida. Itís unclear if Groves will start, but he likely will see playing time. His job will be crucial in stopping LSUís rushing offense, which ranks 10th in the country. Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox wonít be expected to do great things against the nationís second-ranked defense, but he will need to be efficient — another difficult task. The Bayou Bengals lead the nation in pass defense efficiency. Opposing quarterbacks complete only 44 percent of their passes, while throwing 13 interceptions and six touchdowns.

LSU uses a two-quarterback system similar to the way Auburn uses Cox and freshman Kodi Burns. LSU starts senior Matt Flynn but brings sophomore Ryan Perrilloux into the game to run the ball. Perrillouxís 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame is difficult to bring down, and he has shown power and accuracy with his arm.

Key matchup: This will be a defensive battle. LSU and Auburn are Nos. 1 and 2 in the SEC in total defense, allowing 223 and 279 yards, respectively. Big plays on special teams and defense will decide the matchup.

Weather: Sunny, a high of 85 degrees and a low of 58. The chance of rain is 10 percent.

Last meeting: Auburn 7, LSU 3; Sept. 16, 2006, in Auburn.

Prediction: LSU 17, Auburn 13.

Ross Dellenger, DAILY sports writer

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