By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – When footballs kept bouncing off the hands of Mississippi State’s receivers last week, you had to wonder if they had tightened up under the pressure of the season’s first SEC game.
Receiver Chad Bumphis, who coach Dan Mullen pinned two drops on, came closest to admitting as much.
“Lack of concentration, I guess,” Bumphis said following Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve been catching extra balls and on the Jugs (ball-throwing machine) and everything to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes.”
If the Bulldogs thought last week’s home game against Auburn was a mentally taxing exercise, then Saturday’s game at No. 15 LSU will be an educational experience for them.
Coach Dan Mullen said the team has been practicing with crowd noise and the LSU fight song piped in. Linebacker K.J. Wright, curiously, said the team was actually not doing that very much, and not with the fight song at all.
But, these two also differed a couple of weeks ago on Chris Relf’s finger injury. I digress.
Wright doesn’t seem to think the Bulldogs need to simulate the experience to prep for Death Valley.
“We’ve been playing in the SEC a long time. This team is mature enough, I believe, to be able to handle the crowd noise.”
For the record, receiver Leon Berry said the team has been using crowd noise and music, and Mullen said it doesn’t stop.
“The crowd noise blares the entire practice,” Mullen said. “Some people do it for one drill, for one day, work the crowd noise. We do it every period of every day, just so it’s constant.”
Regardless of how much MSU is using this tactic, you can’t really duplicate Tiger Stadium’s atmosphere on an otherwise quiet September day in Starkville. Only those who have been there can understand.
For MSU, not everyone is as experienced or mature as Wright, a senior. Fifteen current Bulldogs played at Tiger Stadium two years ago, and only four of those started the game.
This is going to be LSU’s first home game of 2010. Tickets for all 92,400 seats have been sold. It’s a 6 p.m. game, so you know the fans will be, um, lathered up.
MSU didn’t have to face a road environment anywhere close to this one last season, Mullen’s first. That means a lot of the players Mullen is counting on Saturday don’t know what to expect.
“I’ve been on the road, but I’ve never been to LSU, so it’s going to be kind of a different experience for me, too,” said Berry, a senior who transferred from junior college last year. “They say it’s loud. We’ve been practicing with the music and stuff in our ears, we should be ready for it.”
Bumphis, a sophomore, has been to Death Valley before, but only as a high school prospect.
“Coach Mullen’s been telling us how bad it’s going to be,” he said. “I’ve been there, but of course I’ve never played there, so I’m excited about it.”
You often hear athletes say that once a game gets going, they’re able to tune out the crowd and other noise and focus on their jobs. I’m not sure if that’s really true.
Tailback Robert Elliott recalled how the crowd noise affected the Bulldogs last time they were in Baton Rouge. When they tried to check off to a different play, Elliott couldn’t hear it.
“I went the wrong way,” he said.
However, Elliott believes the racket can be overcome.
“It’s not hard to stay focused. Just stay focused on what you’ve got to do and just block out the crowd.”
And hold onto the ball.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.