The week of the LSU-Alabama game finally got under way Monday, and Tigers coach Les Miles dismissed the notion of trying to keep things normal amid the buildup to this unprecedented No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup.
“I don’t think coaching normally or playing normally is what we are going to do,” Miles said at his weekly news conference, which attracted an abnormally large media contingent. “I think we will line up in normal formations, but I think we will play our technique better than we have played it.
“We will coach our guys with greater skill to teach. The points that we will make will be more pointed to game plan more than ever. This is not necessarily the normal week.”
Miles’ players agreed that this week won’t be normal as the top-ranked Tigers and second-ranked Crimson Tide prepare for the first such regular-season matchup in Southeastern Conference history.
“I’d be lying if I said it was just like any other Monday practice,” offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said. “People were like, ‘This is a big week; this is our opportunity.’ But this team commits itself to improving every day at practice. That doesn’t change. I saw that out there today. I felt like guys were flying around, hustling, giving effort.
“This far away from the game, I was very pleased.”
This game figures to provide by far the biggest challenge to date for the two 8-0 teams, neither of which has really been tested.
When several Tigers players arrived for their normal Monday afternoon interviews, they too were greeted by an abnormally large group of media types, numbering about 50.
“I’ve never seen this many people out here for interviews on a Monday,” defensive end Barkevious Mingo said. “I guess everybody’s ready.
“The media’s ready, the fans are ready, the team’s ready, the coaches are ready. We’ve just got to get ready to go play.”
Safety Brandon Taylor said he’s been getting countless text messages and phone calls regarding the game as well as face-to-face reminders of what lies ahead as he goes to class.
“People are walking up to us every day, telling us to be ready, that they’re praying for us,” he said. “People are saying bring back a win for the state of Louisiana. It just motivates me more, because I know I have a job to do. A lot of people are going to be watching, and they’re depending on us to get a win for them.”
The expectation level for this game is unusually high, but this team has been faced with a variety of other potential distractions that haven’t affected its game preparation.
“We just have to stay focused and humble, know the task at hand,” defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. “You can’t get into all this hype over the game. We still have to play the game. The hype’s going to be there every day.
“We’ve been in big games before. Every player comes to LSU to be in these big games, so you just have to stay focused and know the job that you have to do and know your responsibility to keep yourself calm and humble.”
Guard Will Blackwell said the Tigers understand they have to prepare to play at a higher level even than the one that enabled them to be ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll for the past six weeks and be the top team in the first three sets of BCS rankings.
“It’s intensity in practice and focusing on the minute things that is going to be big this week,” Blackwell said. “Whatever team makes the least mistakes is probably going to win. Whether it’s ball-handling, technique, footwork, things like that. That’s what we’re going to have to work on and get better at for Saturday.
“Every game in the SEC is important. If you get too excited or too overzealous, then you’ll waste all of your energy before Saturday. We try to balance the fun and the seriousness of the game during the practice week.”
LSU has prepared to play five other ranked teams already this season, including preseason No. 3 Oregon in the season opener Sept. 3.
“This team has the right mental and physical approach to big games,” Miles said. “I’m not seeing a time where our guys have been unable to play a thinking man’s game because of excitement. They are looking forward to working hard and preparing.
“Since I’ve been here, and not necessarily through my doing, it has enjoyed all the glare of the lights of the big stage and the opportunity to play for a very significant victory.”
Punter Brad Wing, who’s from Australia, couldn’t think of anything in his background that resembles this week — not the rivalry between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Collingwood Magpies, not even The Grand Final, the Australian Football League equivalent of the Super Bowl.
“I don’t think there’s even a comparison,” Wing said. “The Grand Final seats like 95,000, and still the hype for that game isn’t as big as it is for this one. This is definitely the biggest game that I’ve been around, and to actually be involved in it is unreal. I can’t wait.”