Devil's Advocate

The people of Louisiana have waited four weeks for the LSU football team to play its home opener, which means their enthusiasm will be off the scale by 7:30 Monday night.

Week 1 saw the scheduled opener against North Texas canceled by Hurricane Katrina. Week 2 saw a scheduled home game with Arizona State moved to Tempe, another concession to Katrina. Week 3 brought an open date. Then Week 4 brought a two-day postponement from Sept. 24 to Sept. 26.

If you can imagine how hungry you'd be if you waited four weeks for your dinner, that's how hungry for football LSU's fans will be Monday night. And the Tennessee Vols are the main course.

But that's not all the Big Orange must contend with. All of the death, damage and devastation wrought by Katrina has the people of Louisiana seeking an outlet for their frustration. That means they'll be even more rabid (and intoxicated) than usual when their beloved Tigers take the field for Les Miles' home debut as head coach.

Death Valley is a tough place to play under normal circumstances, and there will be nothing normal about the circumstances Monday night. Simply put, Tennessee is walking into an ambush. Vol linebacker Jason Mitchell laughed when asked if the crowd at Tiger Stadium will make Tennessee's players feel as if they're going against 12 men, instead of 11.

"More like going against 90,000," he said.

Mitchell should know. He grew up in Abbeville, La., and attended several LSU home games as a teenager.

While the zeal of LSU's fans will be a huge advantage for the Tigers, it'll be a huge distraction for the visiting Vols. Sophomore quarterback Erik Ainge, shaky in Games 1 and 2, is sure to be rattled by an environment unlike any he has encountered previously.

Dealing with LSU's crowd will be difficult for theVols but dealing with LSU's team will be even more so. The Tigers are ranked No. 3 nationally for a reason. They have a superior quarterback, an outstanding tailback, several elite receivers and a defensive front seven as good as any in college football.

Since Arizona State burned LSU for 461 passing yards two weeks ago, many Vol fans assume UT can throw the ball at will against the Tigers. Based on Tennessee's play in Games 1 and 2, however, it's unlikely the Vols could put up 461 passing yards against air.

With a lofty national ranking to protect and a rabid crowd to please, LSU's players will give every ounce of effort they have Monday night. That will make Tennessee's imposing task even tougher.

"It's a situation we're going to face every away game we play this season," Mitchell said. "But it'll be even more so this game. We've got to match their intensity."

Frankly, I don't think that's possible.

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