Sunday, September 25

At last, Tigers' home opener

BATON ROUGE -- Are you ready for some diversion? Do you want a brief return to normalcy?

LSU will try to provide the former, however brief, for a battered state tonight when the Tigers finally play their home opener against No. 10 Tennessee.

How normal it will be is anybody's guess.

It's Monday night football in Tiger Stadium, for one thing, but at least for those lucky enough to still have cable or satellite access, it's a chance to turn thoughts from surviving Katrina to solving Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer, from escaping Rita to stopping Vol running back Gerald Riggs.

The 6:30 p.m. kickoff, televised nationally by ESPN2 with an hour and a half headstart on the NFL's MNF show, will be LSU's fourth try to get the home season opener in the books. It will also be the thrice-delayed home debut of new head coach Les Miles.

The original opener with North Texas was postponed until Oct. 29, the second against Arizona State was forced to re-locate to Tempe, Ariz., and this one, originally scheduled for Saturday, was backed up two days to avoid butting heads with Rita.

Tonight's contest was going to be the first-ever Tiger home game on a school day before LSU canceled classes for Monday, ostensibly to clean up from Rita's minor littering, but it also helps ease what otherwise might have been a traffic jam to rival the Houston evacuation.

It will be just LSU's second game and the Tigers' first in 16 days since they were displaced to Arizona State and beat the Sun Devils 35-31.

The Tigers, who erased a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit in that one, got rave reviews for focusing on a game while assisting in the relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina with many of their apartments overflowing with relatives stranded from New Orleans.

The national media was full of stories this week chronicling the hold on the state's culture that LSU football has and what a relief it would be to its citizens to finally see the Tigers play.

"It's no secret that this football team feels drawn to play for the state of Louisiana, if not every year then certainly this year," Miles said. "We're as excited as we can be. We look forward to being at home in front of our friends and family."

This time let's call the distractions even.

While LSU had to adjust its practice schedule on the fly and players from the other corner of the state are hosting evacuees, it's hardly business as usual for Tennessee.

Four Tennessee fans spotted in an off-campus restaurant Friday afternoon had arrived the night before for what they thought would be a Saturday night game.

"Know anybody that needs four tickets?" one of them asked.

They couldn't stick around until Monday.

Even before the latest postponement, few of the 7,000 Vol fans who purchased tickets were expected to be here since hotel space is virtually non-existent.

The Tennessee football team, which has adjusted its practices as often as the Tigers have, will make the rare day trip for a road game, flying into Baton Rouge Monday morning and leaving immediately after the game.

Fulmer wondered aloud why he should bring a team into Louisiana when everyone there seemed to be evacuating. When LSU pressed to have the game played Saturday as scheduled, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton went as far as to suggest he would forfeit the game before flying his team into a possible hurricane.

"I think it would have been a real shallow victory. I mean, truly a shallow victory," Miles said. "We certainly wouldn't have taken any credit for it."

Miles will likely have to wait at least two more weeks to see the real Tiger Stadium, however.

With the delay and surrounding distractions, not to mention the problems of far-flung fans reaching the game, LSU officials really have no idea what kind of crowd to expect. But a guess would have somewhere between half and three-quarters of Tiger

Stadium's 92,000 seats being used -- unheard of, particularly for an SEC game against a top ten opponent. At least the playing conditions might be a little closer to normal. Although the original post-Rita forecast called for thunderstorms to continue through Tuesday, no rain has fallen in Baton Rouge since mid-afternoon Saturday -- it was blue skies Sunday -- and there's just a slight chance of rain for the game.

"I'm just excited we're finally playing," Miles said.

SITE: Tiger Stadium (92,000), Baton Rouge
TV: ESPN2. Radio: KKGB (101.3 FM).
RECORDS: LSU 1-0 (0-0); UT 1-1 (0-1).
LATEST LINE: LSU favored by 6 1/2.
LAST MEETING: LSU 31, UT 20 (2001 SEC title game).
LAST WEEK: LSU's was idle, beat Arizona State 35-31 on Sept. 10; UT
lost to Florida 16-7.

COACHES: LSU Les Miles (1st year, 1-0; 5th year overall, 29-21); UT Philip Fulmer (14th year, 124-32).
OFFENSES: LSU multiple (190 ypg rush, 244 ypg rush, 35 ppg); UT multiple (102 ypg rush, 210 ypg pass, 13 ppg).

DEFENSES: LSU 4-3 (99 ypg rush, 461 ypg pass, 31 ppg); UT 4-3 (61 ypg rush, 231 ypg pass, 13 ppg).

Scooter Hobbs
American Press

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