University of Missouri

Mizzou football heads to first game at LSU’s ‘Death Valley’

LSU running back Leonard Fournette (from left) celebrated a touchdown with teammates Jazz Ferguson and Ethan Pocic.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette (from left) celebrated a touchdown with teammates Jazz Ferguson and Ethan Pocic. AP

The mythology surrounding LSU’s Tiger Stadium is legendary.

Plenty of ink has been spilled about “Death Valley” as the most dreaded place for opponents to play, the most terrifying, the loudest or one of the best home-field advantages in college football.

“You hear about Death Valley when you’re growing up,” Mizzou sophomore quarterback Drew Lock said. “That’s kind of one of those iconic places that you watch ’Bama go play at LSU. … It’s kind of a crazy deal to be going there and playing ourselves.”

Missouri plays at LSU for the first time at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The teams’ only previous meeting was in the 1978 Liberty Bowl in Memphis, a 20-15 win by MU.

It’s also the first game since former coach Les Miles’ firing, so emotions have been high all week as Louisiana native Ed Orgeron became interim coach, promising a more exciting offense for one of the SEC’s most talented rosters.

Plus, it’s homecoming in Baton Rouge, La., but Mizzou doesn’t sound like an easily intimidated bunch this week.

“I’ve played there before with other teams …,” MU cornerbacks coach Greg Brown said. “It’s one of the great venues in the country. It’s an exciting place to play and we’re fired up to have the chance to go play. It’s the same old story everybody asks, ‘Hey, where else would you rather be?’ What a great place to go play, what a great experience, what a great environment — it’s a tremendous challenge for our team.”

First-year coach Barry Odom said Mizzou has worked to make its practice, beginning last spring, “as high-tempo and challenging as we can.” That includes piping in music and forcing the team to over-communicate.

“We’ve cranked it up this week in those regards …,” Odom said. “But I don’t know if there’s any one magic thing that we can do to absolutely get us ready for that environment.”

As crazy as Tiger Stadium is, especially for night games, it’s not as if Mizzou hasn’t played in tough venues before, whether it was Georgia last season or at Texas A&M, South Carolina and Florida two years ago.

“It’s just like any road game,” said MU offensive line coach Glen Elarbee, who was a graduate assistant on LSU’s 2007 national championship team and played at Tiger Stadium as an offensive lineman for Middle Tennessee State in 2001. “It’s just going to be a little louder and probably have a little more smell of bourbon to it. It’s a pretty unique place and will be really loud, especially at night.”

He also said, after four games, Mizzou in general and his remade (and flourishing) offensive line, in particular, aren’t “newbies anymore.”

Elarbee doesn’t expect the atmosphere to overwhelm Mizzou players, who feel as prepared as possible for the challenges Death Valley presents.

“We’ve got to keep communication within the line, from left tackle, the right tackle, on point all night — communication the entire game and keeping each other calm,” sophomore right tackle Paul Adams said. “If we do what we do, we’ll be fine. We can’t do anything out of the ordinary. We’ve just got to stick to what we know.”

That doesn’t mean it won’t have any impact.

“This will be one that they will remember forever,” Odom said.

A year ago, there’s no chance Mizzou would have been ready to play at LSU under nights, no matter the circumstances, but there’s a pervasive and growing confidence within the 2016 team.

“Georgia was fun (last year), walking out there, we have the ball on the 1-yard line and my legs were shaking,” Lock said. “I’m a little more confident this year and a little more experienced. I probably won’t get the same feeling as the Georgia game, my first away game ever in college football as the starter. I’m excited. I’m really excited. You dream about playing a big places like this.”

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer

Missouri at LSU

When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.

TV: SEC Network

Other story lines

Crockett can: Missouri freshman running back Damarea Crockett leads the team with 210 yards rushing on 34 carries with a team-high three rushing touchdowns. He became the first true freshman running back since Henry Josey in 2010 with a 100-yard game when he gashed Delaware State for 115 yards last week.

Scherer production: Senior linebacker Michael Scherer is tied for 10th in the Southeastern Conference with 29 tackles this season, but his 20 solo tackles are tied for fifth in the conference. Fellow senior linebacker Donavin Newsom is fourth in the SEC with 21 solo tackles.

Locked in: Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock threw four touchdowns last season in 12 games, including eight starts. He’s thrown for five touchdowns in two different games this season — against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State. Lock’s 14 touchdowns this season lead the SEC and are tied for third in the country.

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