Derek Dooley's first trip to LSU as the University of Tennessee football coach won't be his introduction to one of the largest and loudest stadiums in the country. He was an assistant there from 2000-2004 under Nick Saban.
Unlike many of his players, who never have experienced the atmosphere in Baton Rouge, Dooley is well-versed with what takes place there on game days. He spent two years as the recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach, and two years as the running backs and special teams coach. During that time LSU won the 2003 BCS title.
Wednesday he said that one of his most memorable moments of his time there actually took place against UT.
It was in 2000, and the Tigers ended a two-game losing streak with a 38-31 oupset of the 11th-ranked Volunteers
“Losing to UAB was a big blow and to be able to bounce back, I think Tennessee was ranked, and we beat them in overtime,” Dooley said. “The energy in the stadium was phenomenal and it showed what our team was capable of. That was a huge game early in the season that helped build a little confidence in the program.”
Now Dooley could use a statement conference victory to ease the minds around his new gig.
UT struggled at Neyland Stadium in losses to Florida (31-17) and Oregon (48-13) and last week's 32-29 overtime victory over Alabama-Birmingham (the Volunteers led 23-7 at the half) was not exactly a confidence booster.
Dooley noted that this game will be the first on the road for 40 percent of the team's traveling roster.
“The crowds here are pulling for us, so other than just seeing a lot of people in the stands, our crowds have helped us,” Dooley said. “The big thing is not so much unique to LSU as it is to all these SEC road trips. It’s a hostile crowd; there is a lot of energy there and how you maintain your composure when things aren’t going your way in the game is the key.”
But dealing with the raucous surroundings at LSU is just part of the challenge.
The Tigers come into the game with the SEC's top-ranked defense, having allowed opponents just 254 total yards per game and 75 yards rushing per game.
“Nobody’s been able to move it on them,” Dooley said. “That’s a good a defense as any in the country.”