Ungracious Hosts

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Craig Stevens has heard the stories.

Josh Thompson has told him a few of them.

The senior’s message: Get ready, freshman. You’re about to go to Death Valley.

Stevens, Auburn’s redshirt freshman starting linebacker, will be making his first trip to Baton Rouge, La. Saturday when the No. 18 Tigers face-off against No. 5 LSU.

Associated Press
LSU fans are known for being some of the rowdiest.

It won’t be his first trip away from Jordan-Hare Stadium. Stevens has already been to Gainesville, Fla. and Fayetteville, Ark. He’s seen The Swamp. He’s heard the pig snorts.

But Tiger Stadium, on a Saturday night in October, is a little different.

“I heard a story about an 80-year-old woman mooning them a couple of years ago,” said Stevens. “They’ve been telling me about how they’re going to be shaking the bus when we get there, too.”

Thompson would know. He was there in 2005 when the Tigers lost 20-17 in overtime. He saw the wrinkled behind. He felt the bus shake.

“People are mooning you, people are throwing water at you, throwing bottles at you, beating on the buses,” he said.

And that’s just when the players arrive at the stadium.

“And then you get in the stadium, and they’re trying to spit at you and yell at you,” he said. “This is the most crazy environment I’ve ever been to.”

He doesn’t expect it to be any different Saturday night. After being ranked No. 1 in the country last week, LSU went to Kentucky, gave up 43 points, and lost by six in triple overtime. The Bayou Bengals will be back at home this weekend, where they’ve won 24 times in a row at night.

Associated Press
Tiger Stadium seats 92,400.

Thompson expects the crowd to be in rare form once again. But he’s not dreading the raucous atmosphere. He’ actually looking forward to it.

“I love that, personally” he said. “It gets me hyped up. It’s a great situation, a great environment. It’s just a great place to go play.”

Auburn has been one of the most successful road teams in the country over the last few years. The Tigers have won 14 of their last 15, and are 19-5 since 2003 in games played outside Jordan-Hare. Auburn has also won eight straight SEC road games including a win at No. 4 Florida earlier this season.

Against the Gators, Auburn was an 18-point underdog. The Tigers aren’t getting much more against LSU. Las Vegas had the Bayou Bengals favored by as many as 14 points earlier in the week. It’s now down to around 12.

“It’s great. I love it. Being the underdog is the best thing you can be,” said Thompson. “People don’t have many expectations for you and you go in there and show people how you can play.”

The Tigers have relished in the role of the underdog, particularly against No. 5-ranked teams. Auburn, when ranked, is 4-1-1 against No. 5 teams. It’s last win over a No. 5 came in 2004, coincidentally against LSU.

AP: Dave Martin
This won’t be Thompson’s first rodeo against LSU.

“Everybody’s going to be looking at LSU, but hopefully after this one they’ll be looking at us,” said Thompson. “Usually the winner of this game goes to the SEC championship, so this is win or lose all for us, because our goal is to go the SEC championship.

“We want to win this game, and hopefully that’s what will happen.”

It would certainly make for a good story.

Injury Report

The news on the injury front continues to get better for Auburn, according to coach Tommy Tuberville.

The Tigers welcomed back safety Aairon Savage to practice earlier this week, and the starter appears ready for action this weekend. He and a few more.

“Savage is looking pretty good. He’s back,” said Tuberville. “He’s not going to be 100-percent, but he’s pretty close.”

Also returning to more action are LB Merrill Johnson and DE Quentin Groves.

“Merrill Johnson is a lot better this week, and Quentin practiced (Wednesday),” said Tuberville. “(Groves) is not 100-percent, but he looked a lot better today than he looked last week.

“It looks like we have a lot more depth starting to come back.”

Starting LT Ryan Pugh (shin) appears the only player Tuberville is doubtful about. Center Jason Bosley, although still a little hobbled by a knee injury, is expected to play again this week.

AP: Rob Carr
Groves is still one sack shy of the Auburn record.

“Bosley is sore, but doing good. (Pugh) was out here walking around, but didn’t practice. He is doubtful,” said Tuberville. “He hasn’t practiced the last two days. He’ll make the trip. He’s doing pretty good on it, but when you miss the first two days it’s hard to learn the game plan.”

With Pugh out, former starter King Dunlap will likely get the nod.

“King has done fine, competing, doing good, working hard,” said the coach. “He had a little time off so he has fresh legs. It’s good to see him back out there. He’s jumping around, excited about being the starter again.”

Quick-Hitters:

***Auburn practiced for two hours Wednesday evening behind the Athletic Complex. The Tigers continued to do more 11-on-11 work. “We’re just looking for consistency there (on offense),” Tuberville said. “We’re trying to do more against our defense to try and give them a better look in terms of game situations. Hopefully it will help.”***Tuberville said the players haven’t lacked any emotion this week in practice. “Guys practiced hard. There was a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm,” he said. “They are looking forward to it. They know it’s going to be a major challenge, but they always get up for games like this. “This is not a coaches’ game. This is a players’ game. They understand that.”***Ryan Shoemaker was pulled last week against Arkansas and replaced with Patrick Tatum. Neither of the two had a particularly impressive night against the Razorbacks. Shoemaker had three punts for a 37.7-yard average. Tatum averaged 39.5 yards on two punts. Both kickers received generous bounces on the punts. A starter for the LSU game won’t be named until just before kickoff.”They’re competing. Both of them are looking a lot better,” said Tuberville. “Hopefully they’ll get their minds back right. Either that, or keep getting the bounces.” Auburn will return to the practice fields Thursday morning. The Tigers travel to Baton Rouge Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m. CT, and the game will be carried by ESPN.